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Short first novel of a frustrated marriage, wryly bright and picaresque in the first half, increasingly mundane in the second. When she loses her job with a music publisher, Julia finds herself newly doubtful of her self-worth (what she'd like to be is a jazz pianist) and equally doubtful about the marriage she has with the uncommunicative and emotionally inattentive Michael. Falling into a tailspin (she smashes 11 wineglasses in a quarrel with Michael), Julia goes to a psychiatrist whom she's looked up in the yellow pages (""Julia Sees a Psychiatrist""), visits her sister (""Julia Visits Her Sister"") in the hope--unsuccessful; they fight instead--of getting some direction, and even tries to revisit her childhood in a conversation with her mother (""Julia's Family Comes to Visit""), from whom she hopes to find the early sources of her sense of inferiority and doubt. Nothing helps much, if at all, and when Michael loses his job, too, becoming even less communicative than before (if that's possible), Julia finally betrays him with not one, but two brief affairs in Europe--and then, both affairs having fizzled, ends up again in the less-than-spiritual-kinship of marriage with Michael, as at the start. Working with frustrated characters who are unable to change their lot in life (though why not remains in some doubt) allows Denning some effective and peppery satire early in the book, but when Julia makes her move into affair-dom, things become rushed, derivative, and artificial--and by the time Julia limps back to cloddish Michael, one is less likely to feel pity at the doors of doom closing upon her than to feel a vague irritation at characters who have devolved into ciphers. A sprightly and compelling appeal for half the distance, but soggy after that.

Pub Date: Oct. 20th, 1986
Publisher: North Point