From a talented but usually difficult and unlikable novelist (Totempole, Still Life): an interesting novel, finally a...



From a talented but usually difficult and unlikable novelist (Totempole, Still Life): an interesting novel, finally a fascinatingly odd one, more in sum than of parts, as it rollercoasters from a realistic start into a valley of elusive ritual and archetype, and then pulls out, changed, into realism again. Andrew Spector, in 1932, is a composer and a business partner of his brother Ben. But the situation is not satisfactory; guilty over the death by drowning of one son, over being impotent with his wife, over neglecting his music, Andrew decides to quit the business: on a summer afternoon in the Catskills, where both Spector families are vacationing, Andrew tells Ben this, and there is a terrible ruckus of family recrimination and feelings of betrayal. Andrew, shaken, wanders off, climbing one of the peaks--and suddenly he and the book (now nearly unreadable) have descended into a cave-world populated by men and women in leather garments, who perform rituals and chant chants to the Holy Mother and the reindeer, who fight (men vs. women) for who's of greater importance in the act of life-giving (""No band of you, made strong by Us, strong in numbers, Mother-made to reappear, but merely makers, separate momentary makers, hornmade to disappear,"" speaks one of the women). Fade-out. . . and then fade back in to more than 30 years later: Andrew--by now a famous composer--is lying invalided (broken-hip, hardened arteries) surrounded by his family. His seemingly nonsensical talk of ""first-born"" and ""covenant"" and ""reappearance"" and ""horn"" is just lucid enough to draw responses from the family according to each individual's level of guilt (to old Ben, Andrew's talk of covenant is interpreted as unhappiness with their business settlement). Regret and shame is thus wrung out of mystery, and Andrew will die this day. But were the cave goings-on dream? Allegory of the artist? Real? Friedman never explains. Not an easy book, then--you must actively work at appreciating its architecture--but often a haunting one.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1980


Page Count: -

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1980