A LIFETIME BURNING by Ellen Douglas
Kirkus Star

A LIFETIME BURNING

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Douglas' most powerful novel yet. Corinne is 62--a college teacher, the mother of three grown children--and she has just discovered that her doctor-husband George has been recently unfaithful. The book is her diary, at turns cynical, shocked, hurt, passionate, lyrical, crudely frank. ""Other people are nobler than I. Other people use their wills to produce the acts that form their lives. Other people leave--rather than wallow in their own weakness, their own treachery, their own ruin. I know this is true. I have seen them do it. I have read about them in books. I have invented and dreamed other lives for myself."" And indeed the reader can't always tell the difference between Corinne's inventions and the truth here. At first, for instance, we believe (as Corinne tells us) that George is having an affair with a very short woman-neighbor whom Corinne calls ""The Toad""; then, however, Corinne admits that George is in fact having an affair with a man--a young lab technician. Likewise, Corinne will later admit that she herself, years before, had a homoerotic relationship with a woman-friend. And, thoughout the diary (which is addressed to Corinne's children), these revelations go off like bombs that first fall almost silently, then blow up with amazing force. This, then, is a novel of secretness and devastating testimony--of pain that somehow is hidden, folded into the lives we live as ""normal."" Indeed, to tell the truth, even to herself, Corinne must hide behind different, feinting figures, behind false fronts and dead ends--behind the caricature of fiction, which serves as camouflage . . . while her emotions advance inexorably behind it. And the result is a book with a slightly Gide-an flavor, one that's also reminiscent of the relentless, revising honesty of Max Frisch's notebooks: it neither ties itself nor sermonizes; the style is strongly controlled; the novel's velleity is its treasure. In all: a fascinating piece of fiction--slippery at first, then compelling.

Pub Date: Oct. 25th, 1982
Publisher: Random House