A BETTER MAN by Enid Harlow


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Harlowe (Crashing, 1980) offers the tale of a January and May marriage that will move some, though not more often than it will strain their credibility.

New Yorker Herb Lattimore is 38 and really set in his ways (he took over his father’s insurance company after his father died at his desk) when at a club in 1976 he meets 19-year-old showgirl Maggie (“There’s a little filly here will knock your eye out,” a friend tells him), is smitten, gets married, and remains so for 22 years—most of them unhappy. The trouble? It seems that no matter how hard Maggie works to fix up either herself or their splendid East Side apartment—furnishings, antiques, renovations—dull Herb just never really notices. As time goes on, Maggie can get through to her ritual-bound and plain-folks husband less and less (“Are you blind, Herb? Are you blind?”) and gradually—well, goes mad. Much of the tension is caused by Herb’s love-affair with his favorite table at Manny’s, the West 46th Street restaurant he’s been going to four times a week for 35 years, having dinner, reading the paper, meeting the gang there since the place opened in 1964. And does this habit change when he marries? Not only does it not, but Herb actually heads for Manny’s on the one night that occupies most of the novel’s pages, leaving Maggie home alone in a state of true despair. All of this chugs along in a narrative sometimes psychologically so stiff that one begs for transformation in the characters. While Herb’s love of the city around him almost brings him alive, curious verbal anachronisms labor further to make him real (“But I’m an old-fashioned guy and it doesn’t sit right with me”), though in vain.

Best by far for its wonderful set-pieces and takes—catalogues, descriptions, nostalgia trips—on the living city itself.

Pub Date: May 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-9657639-7-8
Page count: 213pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2000