THE POLYGAMIST by B. H. Friedman


Email this review


Novelist/art-historian Friedman (Almost a Life, Jackson Pollock) has managed a wispy little cross between Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit and Bernard Malamud's Dubin's Lives--all about a 66-year-old professor emeritus (Columbia) who has one last marvelous year of sexual renaissance. . . while the ghost of his recently deceased wife appears on the sidelines to make tender, catty comments. The prof is A. Winston Edwards, Islamic expert (Arabian Nights and Sir Richard Burton his specialties), and the first of his two great conquests is Sarah Miller--the 24-year-old Ph.D. candidate who types his letters, soaks up his wisdom, plays backgammon with him, arouses his phallus-filled fantasies, and then eagerly shares his bed (""He rubs his beard in her armpits. . .""). Wifely ghost Gillian disapproves, of course--""Did you notice her legs? They need shaving too""--but she disapproves even more when ""Winnie"" takes up with his old flame: rich, recently divorced, still-beautiful, jet-hopping Cecily. (In their posh hotel bed, the graying lovers compare lifelong catalogues of ailments.) Yet, despite Gillian's comments--and objections about the Sarah romance from Winnie's grown children and from Sarah's lawyer father--the prof continues both affairs down at Cecily's Florida manse. . . till a mid-copulation heart attack ends the fun, The finale, however, is upbeat: Sarah (now fast chums with Cecily) will have Winnie's posthumous baby, wed a Palestinian exchange student, and receive ghostly advisories from her late lover-mentor. . . . Too much backgammon for non-enthusiasts, too many literary allusions for non-Islamists, too much cutesiness in the ghost device--but there's just enough erudite charm here to expand a cheery little fantasy into an ephemeral, modestly appealing romantic comedy.

Pub Date: March 4th, 1981
Publisher: Atlantic/Little, Brown