MARGARET'S BOOK by James Walton


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Walton's debut novel--about a squalid, literary bachelor who finds his muse and is partially redeemed by language--has much stylistic and structural gusto as well as a large quota of muddy self-indulgence. Preston Belcher, ""subtly repellent,"" an obsessive reader who ""prefers very long books,"" works (or daydreams) in a record shop, where little is required of him (the result of a byzantine business/personal arrangement). He lurches from one barroom obsession to another, with a former professor's bibliography (""A checklist of British novels, 1740-1940"") providing his only continuity and sense of accomplishment. ""Whatever the daylight world had in store for him, he could always descend from it to his course of readings like an underground stream, cool and deep. . ."" Walton manages to make a phantasmagoric, serpentine journey out of such unpromising stuff--a journey that is occasionally rewarding but too often trying. Briefly, after some background detail on Belcher's work, family (alcoholic father), and group of ""bohemian friends,"" a note from a woman fails out of a book at a used-book store Belcher haunts: ""it's time to begin again. I must concentrate on the present."" Between bouts of drinking and reading, he creates this woman (the Margaret of the title) as a ghost-presence or muse, and this presence changes his life. Between bouts of Pynchonesque paranoia, dream-visions, and barroom reveries, he begins to write--with dubious results included: two on-again/off-again stories that chronicle the adventures of Belcher's alter egos. The whole extravaganza mercifully ends after Belcher confronts his half-sister Kelly and chases her from his apartment. Despite a lot of high-rent mandarin invention, then: claustrophobic and self-consciously literary.

Pub Date: Sept. 15th, 1989
Publisher: Another Chicago Press--dist. by ILPA (Box 816, Oak Park, IL 60303)