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Bosworth was winner of the Drue Heinz Literature Prize in 1980 for his story collection The Death of Descartes; here, though, he provides us with a novel that is clichÉd both in foundation and treatment, and more overwrought than moving. The narrator, disillusioned by the materialism and crassness of his ambitious wife, rich father-in-law, and hypocrisy-requiring job, quits his post as a young liberal bureaucrat in local government, walks out on his wife and just-under-two-year-old son, and moves to a small mill town in Maine. There, living alone in a rented cabin on a pond, he tries to get in touch with the spirit of his dead father (who was also declared by the non-Thoreauvians of his family to have been a ""failure""); observes life, death, and beauty in the nature around him; and writes a long letter to his left-behind son, which letter becomes this novel. Bosworth is not without a writer's gifts (childhood memories of the steadfast but unambitious father make up the book's most successful passages), but his judgment is only woefully formed. Straining to wring intensity out of grievously worn material, he falls into ponds of soggy rhetoric (""I love you, Rob, because you are my son. . . Because you are you. Because you are my son. . . I will always love you, Rob"") and into flat-footed banalities that can't possibly do the work he asks of them (""Like the moth whose futile striving sounds unnerve me now, I keep beating myself against the invisible screen of my ignorance: why are we here? why born to a world we're so ill-equipped to comprehend? why are we so sad so often? why do we have to be so lonely?""). Says the narrator: ""This letter, like its author, keeps circling, circling, searching for itself."" History has its many fine examples of the novel as search; this one, though, hasn't gotten to the life up above those self-conscious and young-writerly circles.

Pub Date: Feb. 14th, 1986
Publisher: Pushcart