LOVE IN A PROPER CITY by John Wahtera

LOVE IN A PROPER CITY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Wahtera, author of that superior Christmas story, The Happening (1974), now offers a charming glimpse of today's faded, penny-pinching Boston brahmins--in a bright, low-key novel that does rather better as sentimental/social comedy than as the story of Dana Channing Low's emotional coming-of-age. Dana is 35; he now owns (more or less) the old, deteriorating family house in Back Bay; he still lives there, along with his sedately fretful mother and his blustery failure of a father (a cheerful, loving pair); he supports them all, barely, with his work as a trust officer at the Atlantic-Orient Bank and Trust Co. And, though likable, tetchy Dana does love feelingful, Jewish social-worker Libby, not until the end of the novel will he be able to finally surrender to this love in a daring, full-hearted way-via a transformation that's appealing yet a bit clichÉd and unconvincing. Still, if Dana's central problem never quite focuses properly, his other involvements--all of which craftily relate to Dana's buttoned-up ambivalence about love--are often enchanting. There's Dana's only abandoned passion: his platonic adoration for aged, exuberant opera star Zeline, a wealthy Trust Co. client whose death will highlight Dana's emotional poverty. There's Dana's increasingly loveless wrangling with his divorced sister--who's itching to get her hands on the family house. There's an ironic subplot concerning a deceased Trust Co. client--who, with illegal help from her trust-officer/lover (also deceased), purposely exhausted the family trust; now the bank is attempting a coverup, while Dana must dispose of the dead client's cremated remains (a slightly jarring touch of black comedy). And, above all, there is Dana's reluctantly loving relationship with pathetic client Eli Hanna--a middle-aged, alcoholic dishwasher who is kept alive, barely, by Dana's dolings-out from a nearly-nonexistent trust fund. True, some of this material (the Zeline subplot especially) occasionally strays into mawkishness. And Wahtera's variations on themes of love-vs-duty--there's also Libby's problem with her refugee father--tend to be more elegant than lifelike. But while this novel is finally a bit too neat and artificial to be fully satisfying, it offers rich pleasure along the way: humor, intelligence, leanly graceful prose--and a large cast of Boston characters observed with both sly detail and quiet compassion.

Pub Date: May 10th, 1982
Publisher: Morrow