NADINE by Matt Cohen


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An episodic account of a woman scientist's search across decades and continents for true love: uninvolving craftwork from a Canadian short-story writer (Life on this Planet) and novelist (The Spanish Doctor). Cohen reveals his preference for short fiction by dividing his heroine's slim rendering of the tribulations of her life into six even thinner sections. After briefly introducing herself as an old woman in Paris, Nadine Santangel reminisces back to ""Paris 1940,"" where, in a contrivance permitting Cohen to write in third person as well as first, she relates events not witnessed by her then-unborn eyes: her mother--a French Jew--meeting her father; her father's involvement with the Resistance; and, shortly after her birth, her father's arrest and her mother's internment in a concentration camp. The second section begins in ""Toronto 1948""; covering several years, it finds Nadine emigrated to Canada, living with family friends, and in time conducting with her stepuncle--a mountain of fat and brain--both college-level astronomy studies and a humiliating affair. As elsewhere, here Cohen writes in both first and third person, in this case using third to introduce D.B. Miller, a popular astronomer (5 la Carl Sagan) who's Nadine's ""soul-mate."" Next it's off to ""England 1964,"" then ""Toronto 1968,"" and finally ""1982,"" wherein Nadine gets involved with--in addition to continuing with Uncle and Miller--an insipid American student, a bisexual London temptress, and a brawny Israeli. Finally, after surviving a terrorist explosion in Jerusalem (big enough to knock sense into her head?), she realizes that it's Miller alone she wants: a hopeful reunion awaits as novel ends. Cohen writes fluidly, filling out setting and character with increments of exact detail: the people he places in Nadine's orbit are memorable creations. But Nadine herself remains too vague and too distant, and her story too precious in its dovetailing intertwinings and too self-satisfied in its telling, to be engaging.

Pub Date: March 19th, 1987
Publisher: Crown