Kirkus Star


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Chowder's second novel, successor to his often dazzling Blackbird Days debut, is unmistakably by the same author: again there is a tripod of characters; again the narration is done by a sort of baton-passing (one character writes the life and days of one of the others); and again the style has a powdery, gilt quality that's hard to take in a big dose but is quite suave in sips. (""Carolyn was a light bulb that had been left on too long--a bulb that burns the bumbling wings of the cloddish moth happening too closely by, that sputters and pops in metallic indignation at the end of its illumination, and then flashes once, shedding brighter light than it's ever kindled before."") A sexual triangle in Portland, Oregon, is the ""delicate geometry"" of the title: young novelist Carolyn and her two different but oddly harmonious lovers--teacher/painter Evan (who came with her to Portland from N.Y.) and Carolina-born Rice, who has moved in with the couple, sharing a bed with Carolyn every other week. Carolyn's love, then, is now fueled by the riskiness and outrageousness of this situation. There's the pronounced oppositeness of her two lovers: Rice is physical, jealous, passionate; Evan is cool, kind, ironic. And there's also the sheer emotional skill it has required simply to carry the whole thing off so far. Then, however, a pregnancy--and subsequent abortion--staves it all in, not surprisingly: Carolyn instinctively swings back to calmer Evan; Rice exacerbates things with a scene; Carolyn finally withdraws altogether, moving out and leaving both men together in the house. And, despite the frequent fly-blown archness in Chowder's style (""Those kisses were hot, and a crew of gamy ganglia quickly spread the news to my various areas, making my liquids bubble and flow""), the emotional veracity of these three people is established beyond doubt: this is no Jules et Jim idyll, but a pattern of fumbles--a mosaic that's especially moving in Chowder's unpatronizing portrait of the less-educated but heart-wise Rice. An appealing package, then: highly likable, deeply affecting characters; an experiment in grand romantic foolishness as the subject; and a writer who is loose and brave and poetic, even when (too often) carried away with himself.

Pub Date: Sept. 29th, 1982
Publisher: Harper & Row