DISTURBANCES IN THE FIELD by Lynne Sharon Schwartz
Kirkus Star


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Like Schwartz's fiction debut, Rough Strife, this third novel is a model of emotional richness and pliability, with sunniness clouded by shared history. . . yet still surviving. And here once more (in contrast to her slight, disappointing second book, Balancing Acts), Schwartz is paying close attention to the subject-matter she illuminates so well, with such generosity: a marriage and a family. Victor Rowe, a painter, lives with wife Lydia and four children on New York's Upper West Side. We are drawn into their daily life, their recalled courtship at Columbia/Barnard in the 1950s, who their friends were and are. (Schwartz gives Lydia a nucleus of women friends who, over the years, have met to discuss Greek philosophy--as their lives, married or single, have become less and less hypothetical; it's a risky, lovely touch.) And there's a strong, bright evocation of how these married people live: Lydia is getting back to teaching and playing the piano; Victor is holding onto his good humor despite the lack of much critical or commercial recognition. Then, suddenly, there's a fracture. The two youngest children are killed in a ski-trip bus accident--and all comes tumbling down. Victor, guilt-ridden, confesses--immediately and hysterically--to an adultery which, in his agony, he sees as a possible cause of the catastrophe; Lydia at first brushes this aside as the writhings of a fellow soul in extremis. But eventually the poisoned fact of Victor's confession can't be ignored--and Victor leaves. . . as first two, now three, are gone from Lydia's life in what seems like a moment. Schwartz gives Lydia's grief a texture of dailiness so well-modulated, within a society of sympathy (her friends gather around yet all are deficient), that it feels like the way people truly do mourn--through living it out, with the mind and the sorrow as two distinct reflections of the soul, moving side by side through time, each at its own pace. (For instance, Lydia thinks about the dead children only obliquely, just as a wound still seeping can't be directly prodded.) And if the reconciliative ending here, much like the one in Rough Strife, seems a bit willful, everything else in this novel comes across as the utterly honest weaving-together of natural serious feelings. Strangely comforting, solid and resonant: a quiet masterwork of late-20th-century American realism, fulfilling the great promise of Rough Strife.

Pub Date: Sept. 28th, 1983
ISBN: 1582433321
Publisher: Harper & Row