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Like last year's In the Wink of an Eye, this new novel--a pretentious metafictional construct--seems determined to dilute and scatter the talents on display in Cherry's early fiction (Sick and Full of Burning, Augusta Played). In the book's first half the narrator is writer Kathryn Allen, whose unlucky love life is apparently entangled with her theological identity-crisis: as a child she reacted against her Southern Christian upbringing, turning instead to Judaism--with eventual 1960s marriage to N.Y. gad-student Ezra Solomon. Soon divorced, Kate has an affair with Ezra's former best-friend Felix Seligman, a sexy filmmaker with a Woodstock harem. And now, some years later, while writing Judaica under a pseudonym, Kate falls hard for sexy Presbyterian minister Matthew: ""My childhood affections asserted themselves, thrusting upward through the Jewish patina like plants through hard ground."" But, despite some intense theo-sexual action (""His penis lay on my tongue like a wafer""), the quasi-affair is a tormented dead end--with married Matthew dumping his wife for another mistress. So, after meditations on God and Christ and Faith (""Behold, my eyes are the Sinai wilderness, my chin is Nazareth""), Kate returns her focus to her first great love: Russian composer Peteris Rejeris, ""my existential anchorage."" Murky, theme-heavy material? Yes, for the most part--but not without some charm and conviction. Then, however, the novel switches to a short, confusing narrative by photographer Lindy Applewhite--touching on the Holocaust, art forgery, lesbianism, love-triangles, Faith. And a final section is then devoted to the notebooks of Nan Pope, the writer responsible for the foregoing fragments: ""Kathryn, whom I devised, in turn created Melinda, a/k/a Lindy, who isn't my alter ego but hers. Unlike either of them, I, Nan Pope, am real."" Along with elaborations on this tiresome ""psychological Ptolemaicism,"" Nan's notebooks offer vignettes and musings related to the novel's overreaching themes: art, reality, ontology, God's existence, feminism, sexuality, love, etc. But the overall effect, though flecked with ironic verve, is more often hollow and ponderous than genuinely thoughtful or probing.

Pub Date: April 13th, 1984
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich