BOWEN'S ARK by George Sakers

BOWEN'S ARK

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Dan Bowen, narrator-hero of this talented but unsatisfying and overdone first novel, is, in his late 20s, the oldest of the three Bowen boys: their architect father was killed in 1965 Vietnam after perversely re-enlisting; their beautiful, red-headed, earthy, Southern-accented mother Frances has remained unattached ever since, staying in the stark, modern house (the ""oasis"") that Dan, Sr. built in outer suburbia. And now teacher/bartender Dan is summoned home from N.Y. by a distraught Frances: her plan to marry bearish neighbor Alex Darlington has apparently unhinged youngest son Riley; he's been accused of molesting teenage boys--an accusation which is soon revealed to be unfounded. But there are sexual obsessions and aggressions galore to be worked out during this high-strung family reunion, especially when middle son ""Wild Bill"" (a drug-runner fresh from committing murder out West) also arrives on the scene. Riley is in fact in platonic love with Alex's teenage daughter Melissa--a sexually disturbed, promiscuous Lolita who some years back was one of Bill's many rape victims. There are unresolved questions about Dan, Sr.--whether he brutalized Frances, why he enlisted. (Bill, still idolizing thuggish Dad, blames Frances and Riley for his death.) Dan must figure out what to do about Riley's Oedipal opposition to Frances' marriage and about the bizarre Riley/Melissa attachment. And he soon decides that dangerous Melissa must be removed, that Riley must be freed from his mother/Melissa hangup. Then, however, before Dan can act, Bill gets up to his usual tricks with Melissa--which leads to murder, coverup, the elopement of Riley and Melissa, the collapse of Frances' marriage plan. . . and, apparently, Dan's extrication, at last, from his own Oedipal fixation. Unfortunately, Dan's coming-of-age here remains blurry; it certainly doesn't measure up to the clinical, excessively Southern-gothic doings that bring it about. And Dan's narration is uneven--with lapses into imitation-Hemingway, greeting-card lyricism, and archness. But at its best (the fine prologue, for instance), Sakers' writing is clean and cool; moreover, the deep-seated, complex family tensions are convincing, even resonant, until they escalate artificially. And, all in all, this registers almost as a model of a flawed but promising fiction debut: occasionally impressive, often unsure, but never uninteresting.

Pub Date: May 20th, 1982
Publisher: Simon & Schuster