JADIS by Ken Chowder
Kirkus Star


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The exuberant riches of Ken Chowder's style--the reckless leaps in tone, the optimistic humor, the sheen and generosity--aren't easily contained within the bounds of conventional fiction: both Blackbird Days (1980) and Delicate Geometry (1982), though strongly impressive, reflected the troublesome nature of this style/substance interplay. This time, however, Chowder finds an oddly congenial, much tighter frame for his one-of-a-kind sensitivity--in an airy chamber novel about a lopped-off romantic triangle. Jadis (pronounced like Gladys) is the wife of Edward ""Egg"" Lambert, a feckless toy-store owner--who comes home one day to Dobbs Ferry (where they live) to find Jadis gone. She has taken off, in fact, with her ice-dancing teacher to California. Why? Not because of any dissatisfaction with Egg, it seems--but simply because Jadis has the tendency to do what men tell her to do. (She hates this aspect of her own character yet can't seem to control it.) Stunned by Jadis' desertion, then, Egg goes on a journey of consolation--to married friends, to his eccentric mother in Florida, but above all to old flame Tory. . . who's now living with an eminent septuagenarian zoologist in South Carolina. And though Tory does truly love and pity Professor Quammie, she's soon on her way (guilty but happy) to Dobbs Ferry with Egg--only to witness the return of Jadis, sick of the ice-dancing teacher, from California. Chowder, who at times suggests a male counterpart to Laurie Colwin (the same wryness and full feeling, the same perils of cuteness), pulls away as narrator now and again with a charming flexibility: ""He was thinking of the way love outstrips the particulars, and how, given a certain attitude, everything seems part of the particulars--including time, including space, and certainly including words. Love could hover above, undampened by the wet weather in the valley. But Egg had no more luck in phrasing this correctly than I've just had here, so he held her in silence. . ."" Elsewhere, too, effects that at first seem off-puttingly fey--like Chowder's rampant use of adorable nicknames for the characters--become warm and affecting, an expression of the author's unself-conscious fondness. And ultimately, despite its apparent flipness, this unusual novel emerges as a canny blend of gravity and sweetness--as it very touchingly addresses the mistakes of love, the impossibility of any final answers.

Pub Date: March 27th, 1985
Publisher: Harper & Row