THE GATES OF PARADISE by Gwyneth Cravens


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Told through Virginia Woolf-touched internal monologues, here is a single day in the outwardly well-off and privately tormented lives of a beautiful but aging reverend and her remarkably spineless art-historian husband. This is Cravens' fourth (Heart's Desire, Love and Work, Speed of Light). Melpomene Gilman (first name thanks to her also-reverend and now deceased father) is in her third marriage, while husband James is in his second, although both continue to dote inwardly--some might say interminably--on earlier loves that they wish (futilely) might become current again. Indeed, as Melpomene spends her day in her at-home office counseling troubled members of her congregation (actually called a fellowship), she also and simultaneously spends that day on a swooning sea of emotional flights and swoops, all because of an erstwhile lover, by name Kuno, an internationally famous painter: Will Kuno call her immediately upon his return, that very day, from Europe? Will their old passion be at once reconsummated? Or--and, yes, this is the right answer--will Kuno, having blown hot, now show signs of blowing cold? While Melpomene lives through her torture of growing disappointment, poor husband James tiptoes through the house, failing yet again to begin his great but unwritten book on a Dutch realist painter--and dreaming wistfully of Alice, the one lover he now feels himself to have been in tree union with. Melpomene's wrath rises as her disappointment grows: There will be broken dishes at lunch; withering words as Melpomene tells hapless James that she never loved him and that he disgusts her; a lone walk on the shore for James; and old thoughts of suicide for Melpomene (a razor, a gun) as the frenzied day grows slowly into evening (there's an autumn storm of sleet and wind) and then at last night--and an oddly sexless, philosophic bedtime. The often delicately rendered torments of a high-intellectual couple (she reads Wittgenstein in German; they listen to the Saint Matthew Passion after dinner), but so fiercely selfish a wife and so pallid a husband as to make the reader want only to scold them both soundly and send them upstairs without supper.

Pub Date: Nov. 7th, 1990
Publisher: Ticknor & Fields/Houghton Mifflin