Smith's last novel, the Hawthorne-like The Delphinium Girl, worked with half-knowledge and blind spots to produce something...

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DOCTOR BLUES

Smith's last novel, the Hawthorne-like The Delphinium Girl, worked with half-knowledge and blind spots to produce something sneakily haunting--and that seems to be the goal again here; this time, however, the effect is instead coarse, inflated, unoriginal, and ultimately tedious. George Montrichard is the Doctor Blues of the title--justified to wear the tag only, it seems, because he likes jazz. He's a professor (in the field of prehistory) at a New Hampshire college. He's been divorced, with a long-distance second marriage that leaves him largely a celibate bachelor. And at one point Montrichard is called in as an expert to help the police solve a local murder (with its apparent dimensions of ritual); he also briefly becomes a suspect. But, characteristically, nothing comes of this--so, eased-out on leave, Montrichard goes to Ireland, where the novel takes on a smidgin of life: he encounters both wives there, as well as his estranged children, again finding a reason to slip away while no one's looking. And perhaps Smith intends Montrichard's absence of character to make a point about emptiness as a definition of personality--humanity's negative capability. Intended or not, however, the resulting novel is feckless, episodic, an academic comedy without any laughs. The tone is uncomfortably similar to that of Bellow's Henderson the Rain King. (""He seemed an honest sort, but I have grown weary of intellectuals. In whose number I include myself. Give me the simple pleasures. Fly me away from all this sophistication and decadence. Give me the great sunlit amphitheater of the out-of-doors. Simple song and dance. Breughel will be my photographer. Simplify, Montrichard, that is the great lesson. Keep it foremost in your heart. Return to the basics. To earth and flesh tones."") And, lacking the adventurous language, satiric exotica, and deep fun of prime Bellow, this is a hard-working yet leaden and stubbornly unengaging exercise.

Pub Date: June 16, 1983

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Morrow

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1983