RICH REWARDS by Alice Adams


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Here, more than ever, Adams (Listening to Billie, Beautiful Girl) seems to be dressing up women's-magazine fiction as serious literary work--with some style but little real authority. The lady in romantic disarray this time is 40-year-old Daphne, long-divorced and big-breasted and new to San Francisco--where she's come to be custodian/renovator/decorator in her old chum Agatha's just-purchased house in posh Pacific Heights. (Agatha's late father, a shady General, has left her a fortune.) And Daphne is determined to do without men for a while, since she's "addicted to even the most miserable forms of love": past lover Jake was a junkie; recent lover Derek is a pig; only Jean-Paul of Paris, her adulterous love of long ago, was a sweetie (not to mention "the beautiful unforgettable shape of his cock"), but she let him get away--and now he's a "leading Socialist economic theorist." Still, Daphne, who has made "a career out of personal relationships," does let herself get somewhat emotionally involved. She has sexy fantasies about "beautiful" carpenter Tony--who turns out, alas, to be a sometime homosexual prostitute. She meets the Houston family: handsome blond Royce (who'll have an affair with physician Agatha), dark wife Ruth (who'll temporarily go mad), wool-sculptor Caroline (who'll turn lesbian), flaky son Whitey (who'll beat up Caroline and then go off to Alaska to get killed in a fight). And finally Daphne will discover that old flame Jean-Paul is teaching at Berkeley--so there's a Clairol-commercial reunion ("We praised and blessed each other, for everything") with a happy fadeout. . . though J-P may have a terminal disease. What does all this add up to? Very little, despite an attempt to relate Daphne's "emotional temperature-taking" to "the proliferation of violence" in the 1970s (not only the Houston family, but also a possible link between Agatha's money and the murder of Chile's Allende!)--an awkward stab at metaphor even less convincing than the use of Billie Holliday in Listening to Billie. Nor does Daphne's narrative strongly engage on the simplest storytelling level: the supporting cast remains faceless (partly because of Adams' limited-vocabulary obsession with "beautiful" people); there's no tension, despite heavy foreshadowing throughout; and Adams seems never to have decided whether archly self-centered narrator Daphne is a character or just a generalized alter ego. Painless--but the thinnest work yet from an initially alluring, superficially polished, increasingly banal and repetitive writer.
Pub Date: Sept. 10th, 1980
ISBN: 0449146529
Page count: 195pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1980


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