THE LIFE OF THE PARTY by Maureen Freely
Kirkus Star

THE LIFE OF THE PARTY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In Mother's Helper (1979) Freely gave the flat of her hand, hilariously and savagely, to a batch of fringe academics, faddists in ding-dong self-realization. Here, in a second superior novel, she isolates a clutch of American profs on a hill of academe in Istanbul, Turkey, at a prestigious American university (fiercely nationalized in 1971)--and examines the curious career of Hector Cabot, for some 15 years (1955-1969) the life of the expatriate/campus party. . . till everything sours. When Hector arrives in Istanbul in '55, he brings a background that's already bi-culturally pixillated: his vibrant mother Aspasia, a ravaged Greek native of Istanbul, a victim of Turkish nationalism circa 1923, escaped into marriage with Hector's pale British father (a drunk), then left him for wealthy, soon-deceased Connecticut Cabot. So, crossing the Turkish border for the first time, Hector finds ""a nightmare logic"" taking over his life, zig-zagging with dreams of conquest. Sozzled on his first raki, mathematics prof Hector is soon a near-manic boozer, creating a new drunken persona for himself: ""Captain Yorgo."" In this role he leads both Turkish and American colleagues in mighty missions: shrieking nude excursions into the Bosphorus; a three-day bender at Christmastide; wondrous flights that seem to rise above the cross-cultural perils latent in a mix of national characters and politics. True, there are some casualties amid all this revelry: Hector's hapless, plain-Jane wife Amy (previously terrorized by mother-in-law Aspasia)is the victim of cutthroat insults; a Turkish girl is raped; the American children of these expatriates, watching the hijinks, are becoming ""middle-aged phonies. . . with their adaptable attitude toward the truth."" But it's only in 1969, when a super-orgy coincides with the Istanbul arrival of mother Aspasia (a ""disaster-seeking glint in her eyes""), that the party truly collapses: the hilarity, shot through with Hector's anger, ends in the death of Aspasia (and of ""Captain Yorgo"")--while everyone's high is replaced by a reality hangover of ugly confrontation (domestic, political), of hostility and betrayal. Alert both to vacuum pockets in the American character and the dangers of knee-jerk anti-Americanism abroad: a complex, funny, and shrewd satirical novel--energized throughout by Freely's memorable portrait of manic court-jester Hector, ""a hero with a long agenda.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Simon & Schuster