THE SERAGLIO by James Merrill


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An inconclusive interval with the Tannings, a family of considerable wealth and the parasitic entourage it attracts, occasions a first novel which is a sophisticated dalliance and which often seems as aimless as those engaged in it. Benjamin Tanning, who has married and divorced three wives, now lives a life of semi-invalidism (not altogether necessary) hemmed in and pampered by a covey of calculating women:- a penniless British Lady Good, predatory Irene Cheek, Natalie Bigelow, and his housekeeper- Mrs. McBride- all save the latter hoping to marry the old man. His daughter, Enid, has married a man molded in her father's image; but his young son, Francis, is emotionally emasculated presumably by the example of his forebear- and after a summer in Italy- imports an older women of considerable experience, Xenia, to his father's seraglio. Xenia directs her charms at both the old man and Francis- then goes back to New York to bear a lover's son, which out of pity, she allows Francis to believe is his; Francis, having attempted suicide, then drifts into the homosexual bohemia of Greenwich village; and Benjamin Tanning concludes these annals with his marriage to Lady Good.... The author views his utterly useless characters at a distance- and it is a specious world indeed, none the more attractive for its affectation of naughtiness.

Publisher: Knopf