BEAUTIFUL WOMEN; UGLY SCENES by C. D. B. Bryan

BEAUTIFUL WOMEN; UGLY SCENES

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KIRKUS REVIEW

One man's ""midlife crisis,"" complete with adultery, divorce, True Love, and self-analysis--in a long, self-indulgent, largely banal novel from the author of better fiction (The Great Dethriffe) and much better non-fiction (Friendly Fire). Now in his early 40s, blissfully in love with prospective wife #3 Odette, the unnamed narrator here is repetitiously raking over his recent marital miseries, trying to understand ""why my relationships with women so often resulted in anguish, guilt and pain. . . ."" There are brief mentions of early sex-life (""I am eight years old and amazed by my body. . . . A light surge of blood enters my cock"") and a first marriage; there is some very sketchy psychological musing (""How much of my love for my mother was Oedipal I neither know nor care""). But the vast bulk of the narrator's monologue dwells on the year or two leading up to the breakdown of his marriage to Alice, much-hated wife #2: his anxiety attacks, following a series of family deaths (brother, uncle, mother); his increasing awareness of Alice's lack of sexual responsiveness (""And dear God, why was I so incapable of showing her the joy, the excitement, the laughter and sharing that making love could be?""); his guilt-ridden but persistent devotion to extramarital action--with co-eds, with Alice's cousin Barbara (""certainly there was the viciousness inherent in fucking someone close to Alice, a way of getting back at Alice for all her distance and coldness and hurts""); escalating tension about money, about the narrator's absences from home (he's a documentary filmmaker with occasional teaching stints), about Alice's reluctant custody of sullen stepdaughter Joan. Then the couple becomes friendly with a neighbor-couple--psychiatrist Arthur and his French wife Odette: Arthur and the ever-loathsome Alice pair off ostentatiously. . . while the narrator only very cautiously fails in head-over-heels love with fabulous Odette. And finally, after both marriages dissolve, the narrator will find utter sexual contentment with Odette--their relationship surviving some missteps, step-sibling rivalries, and one big crisis: ""I sank to my knees in the snow and prayed. I prayed to God, to my mother and brother, deceased uncles and friends. . . . I asked them all to give me courage. To make me strong. I asked them to help me learn how to love and be loved, to help me understand Odette and what she needed from me. I asked them to teach me to see."" Earnest, self-serving, and (except for some of the lively step-sibling repartee) flatly tedious: less like a novel than like 100 unedited hours in a marriage-counselor's office--with all the embarrassing, petty earmarks of insufficiently transformed autobiographical material.

Pub Date: Aug. 26th, 1983
Publisher: Doubleday