CLEMMONS by Hilary Masters


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The sexually active but rather snoozy mid-life crisis of Andy (""A.W."") Clemmons--who, despite turning his back on New York City and most entanglements, still finds that various females threaten ""to illuminate his solitude."" Once a show-biz press agent, 50-ish Clemmons is now an upstate realtor in the Berkshires, turning a small town into a condo getaway-community for wealthy urbanites. His estranged wife Olive, a political/artistic Southern belle, has long since returned to her regal home-base, aiding the aspirations of her governor-brother. His bygone, steamy grand-passion, cabaret singer Jenny Seven, remains only in Manhattan memories--which frequently pop up through the leisurely narrative. And Clemmons' current amour is a strictly part-time proposition: occasional N.Y.C. rendezvous with elegant, earthy Claire, 38, a power in the art-world via her family foundation. Then, however, the quiet status quo erupts--when Clemmons' older daughter Milly (a perennial thorn) declares that she's returning to the Berkshires for an outdoor wedding to her rock-star lover. Supposedly (unconvincingly) unhinged by this prospect, Clemmons pays an uneasy visit to Olive, reigniting their conjugal fire and imploring her to take charge of the ensuing nuptials. (""I am not going to be sucked back into that whole role, playing the happy husbandryman with his bower of rosy kinder."") As the wedding plans and local redecorating progress, he is plagued by recollections of Jenny, by jock itch, by images of aging. (""When had he grown so old?"") Milly's imminent arrival triggers broodings on their long estrangement; the strain of it all propels Clemmons into a fall from his roof; Milly's announcement of her plans for childbirth and a quickie divorce enrage him-as do plans to use the wedding for a record-promo; a touch of sex-farce is added when Claire chooses to visit Clemmons in the midst of the family reunion. (To his horror, his mistress is soon ""taken over by his family."") And at the fadeout Clemmons is pretty much where he was at the novel's beginning--still a free spirit who's ambivalent about ties and commitments: ""Do you want to be in the picture or out of it? Do you know what you want? Johnny Appleseed or Charlie Button-down?"" A murmurous character-portrait, heavy on nostalgia, sex, and vague discontent--fairly smooth and literate (despite some awkward mixings of metaphors and tenses), but without enough humor, charm, or depth to compensate for the lack of drama.

Pub Date: Feb. 28th, 1984
Publisher: Godine