PEEP SHOW by David Black


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From the author of The King of Fifth Avenue (1981), Like Father (1978), and Murder at the Met (1984) comes a novel that tries to dramatize the mystic seamlessness between past and present, but that falls prey to the poor banalities not of the then, but of the now. After 18 years of a rocky (and sexually wandering) marriage, journalist Leo and wife Meg retire for the summer to a cabin near Old Mystic, Conn., in the hopes of patching up their romance. So far so good (though, even at the cabin, they're still fighting), except that the neighbors turn out to be Bill and Barbara Harris, with their pouting-sultry and precocious teen-aged daughter Rebecca--whom marriage-troubled Leo immediately lusts for to an extent quite out of his control. It's not just that Rebecca is an 80's-style nymphet: she also, in a half-supernatural way, seems to echo and reenact episodes out of Leo's past life. With this faint touch of the occult for openers (it seems to be half lost in the shuffle later on), the novel continues at length to review the past not only of Leo (with his Jewish, socialist, naive-idealistic-intellectual father), but the past also of both Bill and Barbara Harris (with their aristocratic, decadent, faded-genteel, moneyed WASP backgrounds). In past time, these divergent family histories--often colorful, painful, fascinating, and tragic--are chronicled; in present time, the chronicle is more hackneyed and forced: the ""friendly,"" often drunken and sexually-innuendoed snipings between bigoted WASP Harris and Jewish Leo; and the postponed but inevitable coupling of Leo and young Rebecca. Before this final, less-than-heart-stopping event occurs, though, there will be a sex scene in a tough bar, followed by a gratuitous road chase; the attempted suicide of Bill Harris (Leo saves him; neither the attempt nor the saving seem to make much difference to anyone); a see-the-decadence-before-your-very-eyes night of cocaine and discos in New York; and a videotape of Rebecca's parents in flagrante fellatio: ""[Rebecca] rewound the tape and replayed the come shot, stopping the motion just when the semen arched, each drop a distinct oval."" "" 'You should see the beginning,' Rebecca said. 'She's got a great tan.'"" The historical parts are often fine (among the treasures stands out Leo's running away, as a young child, with a vaudeville actress), but the present-time segments founder under the weight of cheap thrills and standard-issue clichÉ--to the detriment of both, and of the seamlessness of the plan.

Pub Date: May 16th, 1986
Publisher: Doubleday