BECOMING THE ENEMY by Brenda Peterson


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The Manhattan publishing scene is the setting for Peterson's (River of Light, 1978) second novel--complete with a bright-eyed ingenue, a handsome young writer, a wealthy but troubled young editor, and a few senior members of the staff being pushed into retirement by the dastardly corporation that has just taken over Cowley and Pelzner, publishers. Behind the scenes there are love affairs that evolve into love triangles, rectangles, and other geometric combinations. But it's not all as formulaic as it sounds. Peterson has taken care to give her characters their own stories to tell. Lauren (the ingÉnue) is part-Cherokee. She was raised in the South, where her father's job took him away from home for three weeks out of every month, leaving Lauren and her sisters and brothers to cope with their emotionally unbalanced mother. Joseph (the young writer) is struggling to recover from the death of his father, Tata, a concentration-camp survivor. And Ruth (wealthy but troubled) still suffers from the effects of a painful, lonely childhood in which she comforted herself with Catholicism and imaginary dinosaurs. These background stories have real heft, but the trouble is that, next to them, the rest of the book feels flimsy. The publishing-house plot is plodding and contrived. Joseph's angst about his bed-partners is not half so stirring as his memories of Tata's crippled hands. And the vision of Lauren's loony mother captures our sympathy in a way that Cowley and Pelzner's resident bag-lady never can. It's apparent that Peterson can write, but it seems she got off-course here, snared by her own plot outline. The best parts of this novel are wedged in awkwardly, as if they'd been fitted into a too-tight shoe. Next time, we hope, Peterson will trust her instincts and try it barefoot.

Pub Date: June 16th, 1988
Publisher: Graywolf