Impending fatherhood sends a borderline-neurotic college professor into a tailspin in essayist-reviewer (and Amherst College professor) Douglas’s inventive first novel.
Art historian and war memorial expert Daniel Wellington has it all: a gorgeous, well-heeled wife (identified only as “R.”); a prestigious academic sinecure with tenure awaiting only the completion of his book Art and Atrocity; and the respect of the international scholarly community, expressed in his invitation to consult on the design of a proposed Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. But when R. becomes pregnant, it’s Wellington who experiences anxiety attacks. Things quickly worsen. R. suffers an ectopic pregnancy, and a guilty Daniel muses, “It was as if my private pathology had scripted the whole episode.” Invited to address an “international forum” in Berlin, he flies there, is promptly mugged, then begins a sexless affair with tour guide Bettina. This dalliance echoes Daniel’s continuing amicable relationship with his German ex-wife Klara (who, in a later phone conversation, will diagnose him as a “futurophobe. You’re afraid of tomorrow”), and inconvenient attractions to eccentric Rosalind Roth (whose vacant apartment beckons as a refuge from his marriage’s demands) and smoldering graduate student Tamara Starr, who attracts his attention by briefly appearing nude onstage during a collegiate production of Miss Julie. An embarrassing interview at London’s Imperial War Museum, a violent reaction to what he misunderstands as R.’s affair with his teaching assistant and a disastrous sexual overture return Daniel to where he was at the story’s beginning: in Rosalind’s dreary apartment. To his surprise, he just may survive it all—even paternity.
At its best, this is very nearly an American Lucky Jim: an acerbic comedy of manners with serious issues (responsibility and veracity in both marital and global relationships) at its solid core.