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We move at sea along lanes laid out long ago in stringent tracks. . . to stray from the track is to court disaster."" So speaks the unnamed narrator of this stark, brash, fragmentary first novel, the daughter of wealthy Jewish Europeans who immigrated to Manhattan in a ""large luxurious wave"" in 1938; through the postwar decades, she mulls over the swells and cautionary narrows of a life gilded but fiercely circumscribed. Mother set about producing children who were models of culture and refinement via rules and lessons--riding, ballet, Hebrew school, a progressive school where they voted on everything. Adolescent and later affairs produced no lasting ties--a shipboard catch who swerved to Mother, whose tango was a marvel; oddly quiescent Danny, persistent and repulsive, who eventually went mad from ""unutterable want""; married Sam (""Married men were the mystery meat of my generation""), who called the shots once too many; and upper-crust Harvard chum ""Walk"" Wainwright, loved and loving, with marriage in the wind until the Family suddenly thundered down judgment. (""Perhaps they had simply forgotten to tell me they had deep-sixed assimilation on the boat coming over."") A husband does materialize--fellow refugee Andr‚--but he appears here only in a brief photo-album sketch of his tragedy-marked boyhood flight from the march of Hitler; for his family, unlike hers, there was ""no looking back."" And finally--a portrait gallery of more recent contacts, various adventurers and drifters who fed upon others or themselves: Connie, with her doomed power-plays in the aviary of Manhattan's Beautiful-People partying; brother-in-law Ben, who wasted people and lives; Irish charmer Charles, whose hatred of his dead father dampened and coarsened a ""blithe spirit""; and porcelain, perfect friend H‚l≤ne, who shattered in insanity. These vignettes are delivered with considerable wit, scouring and castigating, occasionally broad and funny--and there's an acerbic moral at the end: adopt a simpler, quieter life as a defense against ""events and people who pluck at us from every side."" The pieces may not quite add up, but this is a lively scan of some rare terrain, where the Rich are caged by genes and genesis just like the rest of us.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1979
Publisher: Simon & Schuster