SINS OF OMISSION by Candace Flynt


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Flynt's Chasing Dad (1980) was one of the most impressive debuts in recent years: an unsparing family novel about the aftermath of a young man's suicide. Here, though reaffirming her sure, strong narrative talent, Flynt offers an unsatisfying, fitfully powerful hybrid--beginning as taut psychological melodrama, winding up as rather flat and ordinary coming-of-age fiction. Suzanne Cox, 20, a waitress in Greensboro, N.C., is--as becomes clear in the dead-pan, breathtaking opening chapters here--more than a little disturbed. She's casually cruel to an older woman who dotes on her. Then, with low-key deliberateness, she chooses a marriage to destroy at random: that of music student Robert Carter and his recent bride, fledgling newspaperwoman Molly. Signing up for guitar lessons from Robert, Suzanne baldly seduces him within twenty minutes; he instantly regrets it, refuses to see her again, keeps his infidelity a secret from Molly. So Suzanne unleashes a flood of nonstop harassment on the couple: letters, phone-calls, schemes to convince Molly (plus neighbors, family, etc.) that Robert is having an affair with Suzanne, has even fathered her child. And, as long as Flynt is following Suzanne's skewed thoughts (half calculating, half fantasy), or simply chronicling the half-comic nightmare, this has the force of the best psycho-suspense (cf. Ruth Rendell)--with extra shadings. Soon, however, it becomes evident that Flynt intends the novel to belong to Molly: a not-quite-grownup, emotionally dependent on her parents, who can't ever quite decide whether to trust the equally immature Robert. At long last, thanks to crazy Suzanne, Molly does learn that handsome Robert is at the very least a creep, liar, and weakling (no surprise to the reader). And finally Molly will decide not to be a victim any more, not to repeat the mistakes of her parents' marriage: ""She was not leaving him because of Suzanne. . . . She was leaving him because of him. She was going to look into his tantalizing blue eyes, those eyes that had always seized her very soul, and say so."" Unfortunately, this newlywed's awakening seems more appropriate to the end of a short story than a 300-page novel. In intensity and pathos it's utterly dwarfed by the compelling Suzanne material. So, though full of rich emotional detail throughout, with an underlying web of themes about lying and reporting, Flynt's second novel is a disappointment--starting with a bang, ending with a whimper, lopsided, yet loaded with energy and talent.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Random House