BYGONES by Frank Wilkinson


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A flat, shallow family-dynasty novel about first-family Philadelphians, 1883-1942--with every quirk, trauma, or crisis a dog-tired one. The family patriarch in the 1880s is Samuel Thayer Whisten (of Whisten Locomotive), and his descendants will dutifully reproduce until we meet a Samuel Thayer Whisten IV. The first Sam begets son Benjamin, who marries gentle Julia but falls in love with Welsh-American shopgirl Gwyneth: the lovers' son William is born out of wedlock (but smuggled into the Rittenhouse Square house and passed off as Julia's baby); and, after Julia dies when giving birth to daughter Julie (having already borne son ""Jib""), the lovers will marry and produce little son Owen. (Meanwhile, Ben's brother Sam is shamed by Society's honor code and spends 27 years in Australia. . . while his wife Bess has an affaire flambÉ with the butler.) Then on to the next generations: brilliant, handsome Jib, intent on taking ""full control of his life,"" shoots himself; Thayer, son of Bess and Sam, will learn to live with homosexuality; Owen will die in World War I, but not before siring a child by nurse Betsy (Gwyneth will eventually see that the family does right by this love-child). And, throughout, there's a myriad of weddings, birth, funerals, and nights of love (""their lovemaking became a silken silver symphony and perfumed poetry and fire"")--plus debuts, holiday dinners, and clan gatherings which are heavy (though tasty) with sumptuous spreads. But in spite of this opulence and the Old Philadelphia portraiture, it's all thin, by-the-numbers stuff--only for the most undemanding family-saga enthusiasts.

Pub Date: Aug. 5th, 1981
Publisher: Putnam