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O'Brien's follow-up novel to his Hemingway Award-winning debut--A Way of Life, Like Any Other (1978)--replaces bittersweet atmosphere and sporadic charm with hard failures, big money, and more than a dash of predictable suds. A. G. Kruger is the son of Earl Kruger, owner of one of Oklahoma's largest cattle ranches: the Sunrise. And Earl has instilled the boy with a sense of inherited power and leverage. So it's no surprise when A.G. goes to Oklahoma U., is a fraternity bigwig, drives fast Eldorados, marries delectable Claire Gladstone, and eventually (after Earl's death) becomes owner and manager of the Sunrise. But A.G. has been a poppa's boy all his life--a ""silver spooner""--and he doesn't really have the requisite edge of personality for the tycoon's life. His plans for modernization of the Sunrise begin to involve bank loans running into the millions; the whole enterprise is palpably slipping away from him; he fails to see the disaster ahead. . . while Claire--a cool cookie, a pusher--knows it all along. And it is O'Brien's best stroke of characterization to turn Claire inside out right before our eyes: she seems to be a viperish, Bovary-like manipulator--scheming, adulterous (with A.G.'s best and oldest friend, cowboy Ramsey), a golddigger (as loudly revealed by her mother, an alcoholic schoolteacher)--and yet turns out to be, above all. just someone who has seen, before anyone else, what a mess A.G. would make of himself But if Claire is a lasting, vivid character (without ever being sympathetic), A.G. is not; as in a Zola novel, his predetermined self-destructive course is visible from the start And if the book derives some vigor from this Oklahoma-style naturalism, most readers will find themselves reminded more of TV's Dallas than of Zola: the men characters are all flotsam, the women are buoys (if not very nice ones), and the storytelling is gritty but also a little vague and generalized. Again, then. talented work that doesn't quite add up--from a writer whose first two novels demonstrate an especially promising versatility and ambition.

Pub Date: Sept. 2nd, 1981
Publisher: Simon & Schuster