ALINE by Carole Klein


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When Thomas Wolfe entered Aline Bernstein's life he was 24 to her 44. Both looked and acted their ages and stations: he callow to say the least, and poor, still unpublished, indeed as yet virtually unwritten; she a ""rosy"" spirit, pretty and starting to plump and gray--the animated and decidedly liberated wife of an un-stuffy banker/broker, part-time mother of two, an accomplished stage-designer at New York's Neighborhood Playhouse. Author Klein, who had access to the requisite papers and people, figures l'affaire Bernstein/Wolfe like a Pollyanna caught between a rock (Aline) and a hard place (Tom). The enchanted self-governing child of Tin Pan Alley would now ""experience herself"" in voluntary thrall to a big man (6'7""), whose love and need seemed to validate her womanliness in a new way. It wasn't until Aline delivered Thomas Wolfe of his first, gigantic book that she was vindicated for nurturing him--supporting, encouraging, and putting up with him--but by then the novelity of their infatuation had long gone, and with it most of Tom's love. And by the time Look Homeward, Angel was actually published, he had shifted the dependency to his editor, Max Perkins. The affair that had looked so promisingly permanent in 1925 deteriorated fast and wound down over some eight years--monotonously here, in Tom's abuse of Aline and her uncharacteristically desperate self-debasement. When he violated the sanctity of the Bernstein family with his paranoid/punitive middle-of-the-night phone calls, Aline had to bear her guilt along with his disaffection: her integrity was idiosyncratic enough to embrace liaison with Tom, but not at the expense of hurting her husband; she took refuge in drink before attempting the suicide that shocked her back to life and work. . . . As Klein places Aline in her 75 years of cosmopolitan contexts, she summons no answers, nor even the questions. And none of the gut feeling of the romance.

Pub Date: April 18th, 1979
Publisher: Harper & Row