OPENING NIGHTS by Janet Burroway


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Many years have passed since her well-praised last novel, Raw Silk (1977), and now Burroway turns her voice to the amusingly uncomfortable circumstances surrounding a theatrical production at a second-rate college in rural Georgia. Shaara Soole, the independent but insecure mother of 13-year-old All-American Kevin, is the school's costume designer and finds herself forced to host her ex-husband, Boyd Soole, a neurotic and talented but not terribly successful stage director from New York, who sees this small-time production as his last chance at the big time, based on the slim hope that Butt Reynolds, a patron, will discover him and promote his career. He picks an avant-garde play, and through seven weeks of rehearsal whips up an enlightened production--while all the time he is attempting an awkward reunion with his suddenly grown-up son and battling constant nightmares about his own father's suicide. His presence and mid-life crisis force his defensive ex-wife Shaara to examine her own mixed feelings about his influence in her life; the dread of meeting his new wife, Wendy; her fading dreams; and her unlikely romance with Gene, a level-headed, loving and simple widowed college carpenter. When Gene proposes marriage, Shaara is faced with the crumbling of a lifelong self-image: from promising eastern intellectural and artiste, she is now in a nondescript southern town, fighting off the love of a ""common laborer."" It is the dreaded meeting with her successor, though, the second Mrs. Soole (chic, mercenary, and in her 20's) who arrives for ""opening night,"" that finally sets Shaara free from her elitist demons. Following her own not-always-believable tumble upward into adulthood (it includes an ""exotic"" affair, a smuggling scheme just for kicks, and a bomb threat), the younger Wendy is able to teach the older Shaara that doing what's ""appropriate"" rarely brings happiness. With the exceptions of Wendy (the causes of her sudden change seeming gratuitous and forced) and the caricatured ""theater"" people of the cast, Burroway's hallmark is her honest, ironic portrayal of characters who fall into their own traps and are then surprised to find the simplest truths in the unlikeliest of places. And this is achieved in chapters of a gem-like completeness, all of which stand on their own like short plays.

Pub Date: June 12th, 1985
Publisher: Atheneum