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Gee's first novel--Dying, In Other Words (p. 155)--showed a talent for telling, poetic vignettes; it also showed a weakness for the obtruding, high-tech scaffolding of current (or somewhat dated) metafictional fads. Here the authorial intrusions again appear, but with a fiat, trendy ""message""--how lives and loves, and the fictional characters made to resemble and promote them, will all be snuffed out when nuclear holocaust descends. Every few pages, then, Gee beats a solemn, interspersing drum of pretentious overkill: ""They would find there was only one story, when it came to the final violence. They would find they had noticed differences when in fact all flesh is a likeness. They would die of violent shock, not the subtle wounds of the heart."" But again her real talent emerges in life-sized stories--here, in the unfolding chronicle of the family of Henry and Lorna Ship of Wolverhampton, those folks who, in a twinkling of a nuclear eye, could become cinders. The family tale contains vignettes of failure and brief bliss, with several generations covered: a grandfather's lovely, late-age sexual idyll with a European chambermaid; Lorna's one single love affair; the fates of her three children--writer Angela, thoughtful soldier George, and neo-fascist Guy, killed as a teenager in a subway brawl. And all the while the clock ticks down toward the minute of apocalyptic extinction. . . with the anti-nuke fervor rising as the more specific human element fades. A very frustrating book, then: stingy glimmers of fine, perceptive writing--mixed with bludgeoning, repetitious, right-minded yet deadening propaganda.

Pub Date: Sept. 5th, 1984
Publisher: St. Martin's