Less interesting as a novel than as insight into the mind of a novelist.

MEMORIES OF A MARRIAGE

Autumn turns to winter in this novel about an author of the novelist’s own generation, who reflects upon (among other things) the complex relationships between fiction and life, memory and truth.

The latest from the venerable Begley (Schmidt Steps Back, 2012, etc.) lacks the scope and dark humor of his multivolume “Schmidtie” saga, but it is nonetheless as sharply observed and subtly nuanced as most of his writing in its focus on class distinctions and destiny among the Eastern elite. It could pass as a novel from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s later decades, if Fitzgerald had lived so long. Its protagonist is Philip, an author of previously greater note, a widower who dearly misses his late wife, who was also a writer. Attending a ballet, he runs into an heiress whose reputation was compromised by her wild, erratic streak and whose ex-husband had died in an accident after a divorce that still left her bitter. Her name is Lucy, and Philip had once slept with her, which seems like a minor plot detail, because everyone had. The bulk of the narrative finds Lucy telling her version of her troubled courtship with and marriage to Thomas Snow, who was then her social inferior but later eclipsed her as a renowned businessman and economist. Both their son and the younger, prettier woman Thomas married after divorcing Lucy provide far different perspectives on the relationship, and those conflicting memories obsess Philip, who wants to fill in the blanks, untwist the contradictions and likely even write a novel with this marriage as raw material. (Perhaps even this very novel that Begley has written?) “But the book would be a novel,” he assures Lucy, “not a memoir or reportage...a mosaic, made of slivers of glass or stone, some picked up as I went along and some I had fabricated.” Since most of this novel is narrated through paraphrase—the protagonist’s spin on what he heard the other characters say—the reader must decide how much he can trust the narrator, a man in despair over “the utter futility of my existence, the books I was writing included.”

Less interesting as a novel than as insight into the mind of a novelist.

Pub Date: July 9, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-385-53746-9

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2013

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Morrison traces the shifting shapes of suffering and mythic accommodations, through the shell of psychosis to the core of a...

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BELOVED

Morrison's truly majestic fifth novel—strong and intricate in craft; devastating in impact.

Set in post-Civil War Ohio, this is the story of how former slaves, psychically crippled by years of outrage to their bodies and their humanity, attempt to "beat back the past," while the ghosts and wounds of that past ravage the present. The Ohio house where Sethe and her second daughter, 10-year-old Denver, live in 1873 is "spiteful. Full of a [dead] baby's venom." Sethe's mother-in-law, a good woman who preached freedom to slave minds, has died grieving. It was she who nursed Sethe, the runaway—near death with a newborn—and gave her a brief spell of contentment when Sethe was reunited with her two boys and first baby daughter. But the boys have by now run off, scared, and the murdered first daughter "has palsied the house" with rage. Then to the possessed house comes Paul D., one of the "Pauls" who, along with Sethe, had been a slave on the "Sweet Home" plantation under two owners—one "enlightened," one vicious. (But was there much difference between them?) Sethe will honor Paul D.'s humiliated manhood; Paul D. will banish Sethe's ghost, and hear her stories from the past. But the one story she does not tell him will later drive him away—as it drove away her boys, and as it drove away the neighbors. Before he leaves, Paul D. will be baffled and anxious about Sethe's devotion to the strange, scattered and beautiful lost girl, "Beloved." Then, isolated and alone together for years, the three women will cling to one another as mother, daughter, and sister—found at last and redeemed. Finally, the ex-slave community, rebuilding on ashes, will intervene, and Beloved's tortured vision of a mother's love—refracted through a short nightmare life—will end with her death.

Morrison traces the shifting shapes of suffering and mythic accommodations, through the shell of psychosis to the core of a victim's dark violence, with a lyrical insistence and a clear sense of the time when a beleaguered peoples' "only grace...was the grace they could imagine."

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1987

ISBN: 9781400033416

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1987

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A nervy modern-day rebellion tale that isn’t afraid to get dark or find humor in the darkness.

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MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION

A young New York woman figures there’s nothing wrong with existence that a fistful of prescriptions and months of napping wouldn’t fix.

Moshfegh’s prickly fourth book (Homesick for Another World, 2017, etc.) is narrated by an unnamed woman who’s decided to spend a year “hibernating.” She has a few conventional grief issues. (Her parents are both dead, and they’re much on her mind.) And if she’s not mentally ill, she’s certainly severely maladjusted socially. (She quits her job at an art gallery in obnoxious, scatological fashion.) But Moshfegh isn’t interested in grief or mental illness per se. Instead, she means to explore whether there are paths to living that don’t involve traditional (and wearying) habits of consumption, production, and relationships. To highlight that point, most of the people in the narrator's life are offbeat or provisional figures: Reva, her well-meaning but shallow former classmate; Trevor, a boyfriend who only pursues her when he’s on the rebound; and Dr. Tuttle, a wildly incompetent doctor who freely gives random pill samples and presses one drug, Infermiterol, that produces three-day blackouts. None of which is the stuff of comedy. But Moshfegh has a keen sense of everyday absurdities, a deadpan delivery, and such a well-honed sense of irony that the narrator’s predicament never feels tragic; this may be the finest existential novel not written by a French author. (Recovering from one blackout, the narrator thinks, “What had I done? Spent a spa day then gone out clubbing?...Had Reva convinced me to go ‘enjoy myself’ or something just as idiotic?”) Checking out of society the way the narrator does isn’t advisable, but there’s still a peculiar kind of uplift to the story in how it urges second-guessing the nature of our attachments while revealing how hard it is to break them.

A nervy modern-day rebellion tale that isn’t afraid to get dark or find humor in the darkness.

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-52211-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2018

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