THE WAR ZONE by Alexander Stuart


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Incest rears its head in a middle-class British family--in a novel that's told with a searing intensity and pace but that otters, in the end, a good deal less than meets the eye. Mum and Dad (she's a lawyer; he's an architect) have moved from London to a cottage in Devon with their teen-aged daughter Jessie (a provocative nymphette and intelligent-but-rebellious son Tom (who gets kicked out of school after school). Birth of new baby brother Jake opens the novel, and this nuclear if petulant family seems to be muddling along until son Tom, coming home one rainy day, catches a through-the-window glimpse of Jessie and Dad having (or having just had) sex in the shower. Already-troubled Tom is filled with a consuming and vertiginous sense of rage, betrayal, and isolation (he and Jessie have always been as close as peas in a pod). Waiting for his moment, Tom confronts Jessie with what he's seen; getting no satisfaction, he becomes a spy, follows the couple's every move, and finally, unseen, watches them in the act. The situation is intensified when the local boys, having gotten wind of what's up, come to the cottage, wreck a few things, and rough up Dad. Late that night, having steeled his will and nerves for murder, Tom enters the bedroom where Dad and Jessie are together (Mum is at the hospital with ailing Jake) and manages to knife Dad, though not mortally, before fleeing to London to burn up one of Dad's new buildings. The novelist's greatest problem (aside from a postscript ending, in which Tom takes Dad's place with Jessie) is that in order to get the Incest Topic rolling along, he's had to rely on uncompromisingly shallow people. In spite of plenty of surface detail, Dad is little more than two-dimensional; Mum is a vague presence; Jessie is dramatically quick of mind and manipulative, but unconvincing and jejune psychologically; and Tom, for all his sense of doom in the world ("It's hard to choose between the new functional ugliness and the old functional ugliness, so why not nuke it all") is more callow and cravenly glib than thoughtful. Moments of narrative power but, in the long run, Sophoclean themes reduced to TV tropes.

ISBN: 385-24953-5
Publisher: Doubleday
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