AT A CERTAIN AGE by Herbert Park


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First-novelist Park makes a disappointing debut with this bland, poorly plotted mid-life crisis novel. It's 1980, and all seems well in the life of 51-year-old Don Van Arsdale, our narrator; happy marriage, secure job, and a pleasant suburban home in Portland, Oregon. Then the blows start to fall: the beloved family dog dies; his company reorganizes and fires him from his middle-management position (though giving him six months' severance pay); and his wife, Marianne, leaves him for a twice-divorced TV producer who ""isn't angry all the time."" After weathering a period of resentment and depression, Don rallies and flies East for some job interviews and a visit with his favorite relative, Aunt Peg. Don has been doing a modest amount of soul-searching (yes, he does have a short fuse), but when Peg tells him ""your intentions were always good,"" this is a sure signal to the reader that Don is basically an okay guy. To maintain some semblance of activity, Park next has Don pay brief calls on his ex-wife and his parents, both living alone after a long-ago divorce; their situations increase Don's awareness (""in the recipe for unhappiness, failure of love is the most important ingredient""). Several months later, back East again to watch over Aunt Peg as she dies of cancer, Don undergoes a catharsis and jettisons all filial guilt; better still, this happens in the presence of the sympathetic Miranda, an old childhood friend, and--before you can say Legacy!--Aunt Peg has died, Don has inherited her million-dollar estate, and Miranda has accepted his marriage proposal. In the absence of plot and developed characters (both Marianne and Miranda are ciphers), this short, evasive, sexless novel reads like the monologue of a latter-day Babbitt. One glib catharsis and a few scattered bromides do not a novel of self-discovery make.

Pub Date: April 9th, 1986
Publisher: Dutton