A mother and son who never know each other, one a jazz singer, the other a war photographer with a cult following, both...

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THE SURPRISE OF BURNING

A mother and son who never know each other, one a jazz singer, the other a war photographer with a cult following, both living at the edge; Doane's collage of their lives, complete with ultra-hip veneer, is even more half-baked and pretentious than The Legends of Jesse Dark (1984). The mother, Lela Maar, dies giving birth, her ambulance hit by a V2 in wartime London. Her life had been singing and sex (""She sang men like songs. That much is written""). In 1943, a near-legend, she sailed from New York to seek a cure for her heroin addiction in England. At the clinic she met Baptiste, Spanish refugee and Channel-runner for the French Resistance; he is the unwitting father of the baby pulled from the V2 inferno, later adopted by American diplomat Armand Page. Little Page is blind for his first three years (traumatic reaction); in Paris, in 1947, the very first thing he sees is the C (for Collaboratrice) carved on the forehead of his French nanny. So the kid develops a ""sharp eye for evil."" When he's 17, his adoptive parents die in a car crash. Hoping to make sense of Lela's life and his own, Page searches in vain for his father in London (they will have a botched meeting in New York years later), then goes to his first war: Algeria, 1961. ""The first picture I ever took professionally was of a woman bleeding to death. . .the second was of a bodyless head."" Page becomes a war junkie, and Vietnam is his next fix; but as he tells his mistress, all the picture-taking is done ""to kill time, Jane. Filling in the blanks."" Invalided out of Vietnam in '74, Page finally seems ready for a domestic life in New York with Jane and his half-Vietnamese godson when the Marines, settling old scores, seize the infant, and Page must make one more trip back to Vietnam, back into the existential vortex. . . For all its posturing, frivolous and empty.

Pub Date: March 31, 1988

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1988