ACCEPTABLE LOSSES by Irwin Shaw

ACCEPTABLE LOSSES

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In much of his recent fiction, Shaw has been preoccupied with sudden changes in life situations--the effect of new-found wealth (Bread Upon the Waters, Nightwork) or new-found daring (The Top of the Hill). And now, in his weakest variation on that theme, Shaw offers a case-history in new-found terror: Roger Damon, a successful literary agent in his mid-60s, receives an enigmatic, threatening phone call one night--and from that moment on his life becomes a nightmare of fear, depression, coincidental deaths, and illness. Damon desperately tries to figure out who his phone-enemy (someone called ""Zalovsky"") really is. In flashback after flashback, he looks for the people in his past (professional, personal) who might hate him. He buys a gun, an answering machine, talks to the police, worries his wife and colleagues. He becomes morbidly depressed--especially when a few old friends suddenly die in eerie sequence. He visits his parents' grave, looks up an old friend--who agrees to become Damon's bodyguard. ""Just five days before, he had been a reasonably happy man, in robust health, content in his marriage, comfortable in his home, respected in his profession, fearlessly walking the streets of New York. . .Then a man whom as far as he knew he had never met put a dime in a slot and dialed a number and graves opened."" Unfortunately, however, though this instant-terror premise (not a new one) is initially intriguing, it's far from plausible. Furthermore, only in the last chapters--after a slow, static belaboring of the opening set-up--does it become clear that Shaw is more interested in fashioning a parable about intimations-of-mortality than in telling a steadily believable story: Damon's anonymous enemy at last appears, shadowily, with a gun; Damon escapes--but then becomes dangerously ill with a perforated ulcer, hallucinating his own death while in the hospital, just barely surviving (thanks to his loving wife); and finally, as Damon leaves the hospital, the never-named gunman is killed--apparently symbolizing Damon's conquest over the fear of death. An uncharacteristically murky and ill-paced scenario, then--and it's no surprise that this is the first Shaw in years that's not a main book-club selection; still, with the big byline and massive advertising (plus that grabber of an opening), count on a substantial show of popular interest.

Pub Date: Oct. 25th, 1982
Publisher: Arbor House