GROUP SEX by Ann Arensberg

GROUP SEX

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

A brave author strains against what last worked. On the face of it, then, to see Arensberg move from the semi-gothic animal allegory of Sister Wolf (1980) to sexual comedy seems indeed promising. Yet from the start here comes the sinking feeling that comedy isn't Arensberg mÉtier. Mousy Francis Girard (she thinks of herself most often as ""a worm"") works as an editor in a New York publishing house, doing the less-prestigious kinds of books no one else really wants to do: cookbooks, mysteries, drier historical manuscripts. She shares a house with a woman who is acting as backer/lover for Paul Trent, a shaggy genius of the downtown drama scene. Neurotic as they come but intensely theatrical, Paul thinks that everything that enters his mind has to be immediately played out--and, as prone to this kind of impulsive-erotic and depictive energy as anyone, Francis is sucked head-over-heels into the vortex, becoming Paul's unlikely lover. Paul's current project, a Midsummer's Night Dream, soon collapses--too radical, wild--so Francis also learns what it's like to be handmaiden for a genius on the downslope too. It's a nurturing she finds satisfying enough but knows is very dangerous: Paul's attention span is short--in art, life, and love. Arensberg shakes out some nice apercus on the vicarious nature of the publishing industry (""She knew she belonged to another lesser species, the race of people who answer their phones and fold the bath towels, who never prowl the city streets at midnight, and who are not allowed to have a nervous breakdown""); but the primary characterization here is fairly anemic. Francis is little more than a spark sent off by the flints of Arensberg's overly ironic prose, dry at all costs but also a mite flailing. And Paul--except for some amusing neuroses--is even less distinct. Credit Arensberg with a 180-degree swerve--with marks for artistic adventure--but her comedy simply has no bite.

Pub Date: Sept. 9th, 1986
Publisher: Knopf