A Byronically handsome painter; the heiress to one of America's greatest fortunes; and the glamorous daughter of a famous movie director form the golden triangle of Hamilton's third (and most successful) upper-class comedy of manners. The painter (Vincent Booth) meets the heiress (Mary Brigham) in a restaurant in France. Vincent, a Yale graduate student, is there on a grant, studying 18th-century painting; Mary is on vacation, trying to forget an abortion and a Hungarian gigolo. She is charmed by Vincent's vulnerability; Vincent, while no fortune-hunter, feels Mary's money would let him fulfill his painterly potential. Back stateside, the lovers are quickly married. Five years later, the marriage is in poor shape. Its one bright feature is little Wally, on whom both parents dote. But Vincent's painting has not flowered; he toils at the Met, feeling oppressed and neutered by the Brigham billions. He recovers his energy when he falls in love and begins a wild affair with the movie director's daughter, Laura Montgomery (""I like feeling like an animal again""). Though Laura has the pick of the best men, and best jobs, in Manhattan, she has a problem settling down (she ""had had five abortions, which she knew was way over the limit""). So it comes as no surprise when Laura dumps Vincent for a newly celebrated archeologist; this happens just as Mary files for divorce and Vincent's homosexual boss, his advances rejected, swindles him out of a masterpiece that Vincent's scholarly eye had detected first. He retreats to Brazil, where his creativity flowers anew, and he becomes a successful portrait painter. Hamilton charts these high-society quicksands with malicious glee, but there is something new here, a warmth that softens the edges; Mary is decent through and through, Vincent has his redeeming qualities, and their whirlwind courtship has a radiance unlike anything else in Hamilton's work.
Pub Date: Nov. 18, 1988
Page Count: -
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly--dist. by Little, Brown