WHAT HAPPENED WAS THIS by Josh Greenfeld

WHAT HAPPENED WAS THIS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An old-fashioned coming-of-age novel presenting selected scenes from the lives of would-be actor Lester Rose and his Brooklyn friends as they ripen and rot. Despite his inept gropings during a revelatory summer as a busboy in the Catskills--a job procured by his bookie friend Leon (Chicago) Mandelbaum--Les would rather be seduced by the Davis sisters: Marxist Laura, who always dresses in black, and true-love Vivian, who refuses to sleep with him until her 18th birthday. Calling on her that night, Les finds that she's gone off to Paris with her sister to join artsy mutual friend Mickey Feldstein, and later learns that Mickey has slept with her (and Laura too). Shifting from acting in the provinces to stage-managing to direction in fledgling television, Les watches Mickey's new career (as pseudo-French Michel DuChamps) take off as Vivian marries Chicago. Vivian asks Les to keep her affair with Mickey quiet; but when Chicago demands to know whether he married a virgin, Les gives her away, foreshadowing a much greater betrayal--throwing Mickey to Communist-hunters in order to save himself when he's linked to adolescent parties in Laura's basement--and accepts a sadly compromised sequel: Chicago and Vivian divorce, Laura dies, Chicago dies, Mickey seduces Les's daughter. We're meant to see Les as a self-excusing schmuck (""Mickey and Vivian together had betrayed him as surely as he could ever have betrayed Mickey""), but his cynical rationalizations (""It was never easy to be an artist and you had to make all kinds of devilish deals to become one and survive as one"") are too pat to make him any more interesting than hundreds of other sandlot Fausts. Earnest and intermittently amusing--but peerless parent-memoirist Greenfeld (A Child Called Noah, 1971, etc.) leaves novelist Greenfeld in the dust.

Pub Date: Oct. 6th, 1990
Publisher: Carroll & Graf