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This drab and perfunctory fiction from the author of Comedians, A Woman Run Mad, etc., raises some interesting--though hardly original--questions concerning guilt, innocence, and salvation. And it does so from L'Heureux's distinctly Catholic point of view, with lots of spiritual anguish and self-recrimination. Miles Bannon, a dutiful son and a compassionate teacher, is guilty of many things, but none as bad as the deed for which he is wrongly accused--a sexual affair with a teen-age boy. A 35-year-old English teacher much liked by his students, Miles lives at home with a mother dying from Lou Gehrig's disease. His circumscribed domestic life is somewhat relieved by his ongoing affair with his first and only lover, Margaret, a divorced accountant who expects Miles to save her through marriage once his mother dies. Intensely guilt-ridden for wishing his mother's nightmarish life to end, Miles responds to her eventual death--and his new-found freedom--by unleashing his long-repressed self. A one-night stand with a pick-up from a gay bar convinces him he's not homosexual, despite his many homoerotic thoughts. And an affair with his department head, a fiery redhead with much pent-up passion of her own, cures many of his self-doubts as a heterosexual lover. Meanwhile, the neglected Margaret descends into depression and drug abuse, and one of Miles's students, a quiet boy who was cruelly raped with a broom handle by some jocks, develops a crush for the only teacher who seems to care. But an embarrassing sexual rebuke from Miles leads to the boy's suicide--an event that tears apart the school and leads the boy's tough-cop father to investigate Miles, whose life begins to unravel. Every private indiscretion comes back to haunt him publicly, and both women more or less abandon him, confirming Miles's sense of life as just so much ""ugliness, misery, and piss."" Despite it all, things resolve themselves neatly, though no one is fully absolved. A number of Hitchcock films and Ian McEwan's recent The Innocent handle the same themes with far more suspense and artistry. L'Heureux's dull prose and depthless characters can't propel this sputtering melodrama.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1990
Publisher: Viking