THE REST OF LIFE by Mary Gordon


Three Novellas
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 Convoluted meditations by women on love and displacement--in Gordon's first fiction since The Other Side (1989). In ``Immaculate Man,'' the best of the three novellas here, a divorced middle-aged New York social-worker is pondering her love affair with a Catholic priest, Father Clement, hitherto a 43-year- old virgin. What Clement has done for this agnostic woman, fast losing her attractiveness, is revive her faith in ``appetite''; what she has done for him is less positive: ``I think that being my lover has displaced him.'' At the least, she has caused this guileless man to dissemble. Is she simply a bridge to other relationships that will further taint his spirituality? The middle- aged protagonists of ``Living at Home'' court displacement. Lauro is Italian, a death-defying journalist who covers revolutions; his thrice-married lover is the English daughter of German Jews, a doctor working with autistic children (who represent the terror of total displacement). The two live together in London when Lauro is not traveling; the arrangement (``mated but, in the way of our age, partial'') works, for their relationship is rooted in ``satisfied desire.'' It is Paola Smaldone, in the title piece, who has experienced the most extreme displacement. A native of Turin, Italy, she agreed in 1927 to a suicide pact with her profoundly unhappy and romantic teenage lover. Leo shot himself; Paola balked. Her adoring father, overwhelmed with shame, sent her to America. Now, 63 years later, she is back visiting with her son and his girlfriend, seeking the ``line running through her body like a wick'' that will connect the passionate girl to the anesthetized adult who has sleepwalked through ``the rest of life.'' These novellas grow through the slow accretion of thoughts and images rather than plot and dialogue; this makes them hard going, Gordon's elegant language notwithstanding. In their rarefied atmosphere, her lovers' passion is a pale fire and, finally, unconvincing.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-670-83828-4
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1993


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