A WOMAN OF LETTERS by Margery Safir


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A woman of letters, of many words, of infinite self-involvement: that's Alexandra Olivier, the heroine (and primary narrator) of this verbose first novel--a Yale Drama School professor who finally Finds Herself through an extramarital affair with a famous French playwright. At 28, sexy, smart Alexandra is teaching at Yale but unhappy in her marriage to handsome N.Y. lawyer John--who's too tame, too conformist, too much like the Jewish father that princess Alex isn't psychologically free of. Then Alex's idol, French super-writer Michel Vernet, 58, visits Yale; they meet; they meet again in N.Y. --with soulful kisses but no consummation. (Michel, who contributes a few alternating chapters, writes: ""On that most human of levels, below my belt, a deep aching that now only masturbation would calm told me that my erotic ideal potentially had its realization in Alex Olivier."") So, months later, after Alex has miserably been forced to move to Washington, D.C. with John, she flies off to Paris to seek out her sexual/intellectual ideal--with the instantly passionate Michel, who describes their coupling in pages of dreadful run-on prose that make his Nobel Prize comically implausible. (""I felt the cold air like a bullet hit the stem of my dripping sex while the tip still burned in her boiling wetness, and I rushed back into the tight humid glove until all of me was again contained and the glove held me and was mine and breathed for me. . . ."") There's a brief, steamy interlude; then Michel, afraid that he's too old (for ""a totally new time, a time named Alexandra""), leaves town for a while; in his absence, Alex gets hooked on the Paris literary/bohemian life; she has a noisy showdown with outraged-husband John (who seems much too good for her)--as she indulges in tiresome self-justifications and inner stewing. (""On equal footing were the suspicion that John was right and I was wrong, the desire to be John, to achieve my parents' approval, to be my parents, and not to be my parents and not to be John. In sum, it was not simple because the pulls in diverse directions were not cleanly cut between John and me. We were, to my sight, largely the same person, each living out to the full different facets of the shared psyche."") And an epilogue tells us that Alex lives with Michel for six years, after which she's a ""serious"" person, ready to stand on her own. ""I had made a woman of Alex,"" intones Michel. ""I lived with the blood of Peter Pan on my hands. . . Pan will forgive me only if I also gave Alex the wisdom to remain Alex."" Despite the arch, allusive, show-offy wordplay (life as a crossword-puzzle, etc.) in Alex's narration: drearily static, earnestly narcissistic self-actualization.

Pub Date: Aug. 17th, 1984
Publisher: Doubleday