by John Knowles ‧ RELEASE DATE: June 6, 1983
Allan Prieston, one of Knowles' most passive alter-egos, is a Knowles-like novelist who returns to Yale in 1980 to give a lecture--and spends most of his time there recalling the events of his undergraduate days in the early Fifties. Nearly half of this reminiscing is a rather fulsome tribute to the fledgling writer's mentor back then: world-famous novelist/playwright Reeves Lock, hart, who is modeled, with laborious transparency, on Thornton Wilder. (Virtually every Wilder work is given an obvious fictional parallel; Reeves delivers mini-lectures on writing, with references to his friends ""Gertrude,"" ""Bunny,"" et al.) Considerably more interesting, however, is what Allan recalls of his handsome college roommate Greg Trouvenskoy--the son of Russian Ã‰migrÃ‰s Alexei and Princess Naida, a cousin of the deposed Czar Nicholas. Circa 1950 Alexei and Naida--who immediately fascinate Allan--live in a run-down mansion by railroad tracks near the Hudson; they're as Americanized as possible; Alexei tries to make a living with stilted historical novels; despite virtual poverty, they've held onto one piece of the past that's an insurance policy for the future--a royal diamond worth $100,000. But one night, after a big winter vodka party at the Trouvenskoys (with Allan and Greg in attendance), the diamond is found missing from the safe in the library: ""the past stolen from them, one final time,"" with the shock bringing on Alexei's soon-fatal heart attack. And only slowly, long after most readers will have caught on, Allan realizes that the culprit is Greg--in need of funds to woo his rich girlfriend, desperate to break all ties with his Russian past. This intriguing anecdote might have made a fine short story, or even (in other, subtler hands) a rich short novel. Here, however, Knowles awkwardly contrives to weave the central story into his recollections of the endlessly wise Reeves, who intuits all the Trouvenskoy secrets. . . and into a related betrayal of the family's heritage. (Princess Naida has refused to acknowledge Anna Anderson as the true Princess Anastasia--because she's too disturbing a reminder of the past.) Moreover, like some other Knowles heroes, narrator Allan--who barely grows as a character--is an odd, largely off-putting mixture of bland boyishness and genteel pomposity. Unsatisfying, then, but the narrative is smoothly readable as usual--with some extra interest for literary-chatters on the one hand (the Wilder Ã clef material), Anastasia buffs on the other.
Pub Date: June 6, 1983
Page Count: -
Publisher: Holt, Rinehart & Winston
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1983
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