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Long, riffling, energized, irrepressibly lyrical, a new slice of Newlove's fictional universe of human damaged goods. Jack Trueheart is a guttering 50's-era newspaperman and unpublished novelist--a drunk, too--living with his mother in the tiny upstate New York town of King James. In the library one day, he meets Curranne--a sort of local legend: who as a girl had a spectacularly public mental breakdown; and who has broken down more thereafter, between two marriages, two sets of children. Who this day in the library has returned to live with her mother, having been released only a day before from a Washington, D.C., mental hospital (where she got to know Ezra Pound, picking up some of his loony economic theories, which she personalizes into an obsession with Nelson Rockefeller, who is sexually dominating her through the use of brain waves). But, even in this barely mended state, the day she encounters Jack turns out to be a banner one for both; they find their ""cracks match."" Whirlwind sex leads to pregnancy and marriage: Jack stops drinking, goes to A.A., loses his newspaper job but finds himself scrambling with new confidence, fortified by Curranne's whacked-out courage and unflinching honesty. The novel's first half--Jack and Curranne's first months together, crises and soothings--has the upthrust of a wave; the improbability of the couple is its sanction. Jack and Curranne fight, make up, worry, fear yet allow each other no easy illusion, no sense of superiority; the birth of their daughter Avon rings additional biological/psychological changes on the two of them, fragiley terrifying. Then this idyll-of-ordeals is interrupted by a middle section in which are introduced some vaguely mirroring other characters: among them Leopolda, an ex-alcoholic like Jack but also a trained therapist, who institutes a local group-therapy circle (including some halfway-house patients from the nearby asylum). The pages aren't successful; they bog down in clinical-session dialogues that are too mazey, too much the water-wheel wordiness that is Newlove's Achilles' heel as a writer. It passes, though--and Curranne's fated tragedy proceeds. The long fights against her devils (she's one of fiction's most attractive examples of the dignities and talents of madness) come up ultimately empty. Jack's own sad-sack equability can't save her, nothing can--and she descends (literally) once and for all. Pathos but not sentimentality is sovereign here--but the book seems as impressive for its poetic stamina (Newlove will throw away sentences other writers build whole chapters around), its air of utopian daze, and its paradoxical vision of the success of failure.

Pub Date: Jan. 24th, 1985
Publisher: Doubleday