DIGS by Bette Pesetsky


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Like Author from a Savage People (1983), this second Pesetsky novel tries to hang a variety of contemporary vignettes (some of them engaging) on a slippery, gimmicky frame--with not much success. The Simons, Sara and Walter, are a New York couple in their fifties. With sons grown and with careers solidly unexciting, they move (thanks to an inheritance) to the country, buying an old house. And while Sara may yet resume her once promising talent as a painter, it's Waiter who's the first to find a new raison d'être. The house, he's discovered (through the guidance of a local history buff), may be standing near the site of an unusual apartment building designed and erected in 1910 by a visionary builder named Lazarre. So Walter commences digging for it, which results in an enormous backyard hole out of which pieces of tile, bricks, and parts of a fountain are unearthed--and which also earns Walter the title of loony local eccentric. Then Walter is injured in an accident in the Hole; the Simon sons--Norman and Alex--now enter the picture; and, though these unlikely diggers suspect fraud and funny-business (Walter also had invested in a motel/brothel), they are soon drawn, despite themselves, into the symbolic hole of their parents' late-life independence and folly. Pesetsky's clipped, episodic style scores repeatedly when Sara and Walter are giving free rein to their outlandishness, less often when concerning the sons' follow-ups. (The novel is largely presented as a series of notes between the characters.) But while the Hole is a fine image, it's too vague, strained, and metaphorical to serve as the novel's central premise. And the bright, funny fragments here never come together in any affecting or convincing way.

Pub Date: Nov. 2nd, 1984
Publisher: Knopf