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Payne's lengthy first novel (Confessions of a Taoist on Wall Street, 1984) won a Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship Award. This time he offers a southern chronicle that works over its materials for too long and finally turns tiresome. Adam returns home and jump-starts his long-ago affair with Jane; he and friend Cary, a suicide, both loved her years ago: ""We stood there a minute, hesitating at the gate of Memory Lane."" Jane: ""That was then, and this is now."" With that kind of profundity, the narrative moves between Adam and Jane, past and present. Adam's bond with Cary, based on ""the lost cause of our fathers,"" and his attachment to Jane, whom Cary loved first, is milked until it bleeds. We flashback often to their early college years, climactically to a wild summer: Adam and Jane work at a resort and become entangled with jaded Cleanth (a manic-depressive who has stopped taking his lithium) and his former lover Morgan. After trying ""to collapse twenty years of living into a single summer,"" Jane and Adam take refuge from the adult-infested world in each other's arms (Adam has attempted to be loyal to Cary) before a distressed Cary arrives, discovers the truth and kills himself: ""He seemed like a sage who served a long apprenticeship, but whose only wisdom was despair. . ."" Only one ending is possible for this long soap-opera: Adam and Jane, having weathered their death-haunted grief, complete their stroll down Memory Lane and end up. . .in each other's arms. A coming-of-age novel that manages to touch upon many a clich‚ of southern literature. There's a lot of evocative writing, especially concerning the ambiguities of growing up in a difficult time, but even long stretches of elegant wordplay can't make up for a plot that is not developed so much as filled out.

Pub Date: Sept. 25th, 1989
Publisher: Doubleday