This debut novel from Menaker (Friends and Relations, 1976, and The Old Left, 1987, stories) has all its author's usual...



This debut novel from Menaker (Friends and Relations, 1976, and The Old Left, 1987, stories) has all its author's usual strengths and charm in setting, details, and people, though the story itself tries ambitiously for a breadth and weight that never quite convince. Jake Singer's mother abandoned him when he was six years old by dying of a stroke, and his cardiologist father in effect abandoned him too, not by dying, but through his increasingly self-protective guardedness, stiffness, and reserve-and by effectively cutting his son off when, after college and some grad school in literature at Yale, Jake makes it clear that he's never going to become a doctor himself. Turn to the 1970s, then, and you'll find that Jake is 32, single, an English teacher at the Coventry school on Manhattan's West Side-and in therapy with Dr. Ernesto Morales, the bearded, Cuban, Catholic, cunning, anticommunist shrink who gives wings and a fine, high hilarity to the first third of the story as he baffles, queries, pummels, tricks, lectures, and sometimes drags the hapless though far from unintelligent Jake through ""the scourge he called the treatment,"" not the least fun being Dr. Morales's wonderfully (and perfectly) unidiomatic English (""But many questions are wolves hiding in the pants of a sheep""). As Jake, though, gains the self-assertiveness instilled by Dr. Morales and begins achieving more in life, the novel gradually achieves less, creeping into unnecessary complication and nearing the hyperbole of TV-drama-with a lover (later wife) who's both knockout gorgeous and fabulously rich (with two adopted kids), and a mix of bad guys, a gun, a big packet of coincidences, even a chase in the country. If all this were tongue-in-cheek, the whole might cohere more happily, but the earnestness and rigor at the foundation match only uneasily the castle of sweets built up above. Work that's gifted but still in big pieces of cloth, a kind of coat of several colors.

Pub Date: June 3, 1998


Page Count: 288

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1998

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