UNCOUPLING by Ira Sadoff


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The tribulations of a youngish N.Y. marriage counselor (professional, marital, parental)--in a gentle, well-meaning first novel that wavers uncertainly between banal seriousness and strained comedy. Sadoff's blandly pleasant narrator is Manhattan's Michael Jarriman, who tells of his sessions with a variety of mildly kooky clients. . . while also filling us in on his own angsts. His marriage to idealistic social worker Evelyn seems to be crumbling. (""And then, as I tighten my grip to her body, as my own body tumbles into sleep, I have to admit what I can't bring to speech: I'm lost."") He has never really resolved his old, great family trauma--his father ran off with a mistress when Michael was 13--and he therefore has become obsessed with his long-estranged uncle: a minor, successful TV actor whose appearances Michael avidly follows. Predictably, then, these brewing crises will come to a boil in the course of the novel: Evelyn leaves Michael for weight-lifting lawyer Ross; an attempted L.A. reunion with Uncle Butt turns sour (""Was this my family reunion, the entrance to my past?""); Michael begins a low-key affair with beautiful, casual plant-store-owner Laurie. And after the inevitable confrontation with his prodigal father (""The hurt little boy who wants to strike out at his father is still there, but now he's accompanied by a man who wants to forgive, to leave the past where it is""), Michael patches up his marriage and begins again. Unfortunately, however, despite all the earnest announcements of feelings, this midlife-crisis novel remains stubbornly superficial--especially since Sadoff often undermines credibility with touches of farce and dated therapist-satire. Unconvincing, too, are the actual therapy sessions and the oddly denatured N.Y.C. backgrounds. So, despite a generally likable tone and a few charming touches (e.g., Michael's relationship with his wife's lover's son): an over-familiar and only half-involving fiction debut.

Pub Date: Aug. 20th, 1982
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin