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 Smith's last two novels (The Blue Hour, 1989, and The Discovery of Light, 1992) presented fashionable men who had to deal with their wives' abrupt departure or death; this time, it's a woman whose life is turned inside out by her husband's sordid killing. Hours before he was to have met his wife, Jill Bowman, for a farewell dinner before his flight to a London conference, psychiatrist Peter Freytag bleeds to death, his throat slit in a transient hotel room in a carefully unnamed city that's got to be New York. The obvious questions--who killed him and why?--are swiftly subordinated to more pressing questions of survival and recovery for Jill, a history professor who finds herself relentlessly rehashing her own history with this man suddenly grown a stranger. Struggling to overcome her belief that Peter's just playing a joke, that he'll come back any minute, she rouses herself to continue her painful round of visits to her daughter Carrie, a retarded teenager from a previous marriage whom Peter never wanted to deal with. And Jill finds herself swept back to her first brush with violence as a child--when a neighbor's death struck her hysterically mute for four months; her abortive affair with a guitar-repairer; her unconsummated desire for one of her students. As you'd expect from Smith, every wish and memory is sexualized, but sadly, hopelessly, as if Peter's death marked a good-bye to all that--even though Jill wonders repeatedly if David Resnick, the married police detective investigating the case, is looking at her the same way she's looking at him. Veterans of Smith's earlier novels will have decided very early on that the case isn't likely ever to be closed, and the final revelations that allow Jill to get on with her life, knowing that ``this was the beginning not of wisdom but of age,'' come almost as an anticlimax. Less modish, more tremulous, and more deeply felt than Smith's earlier enigmas.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-670-86046-8
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1995