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NATURAL HISTORY by Maureen Howard

NATURAL HISTORY

By Maureen Howard

Pub Date: Nov. 2nd, 1992
ISBN: 0-393-03405-4
Publisher: Norton

 James Bray, a Hollywood actor looking for some kind of meaningful resurrection, is drawn back to his Bridgeport, Connecticut, home in search of animating memories of his hard-working detective father and a frustrating murder case he lost during the war--a case involving a socialite and a soldier. Meanwhile, James's sister Catherine, a Time-Life editor tired of the evanescent sameness of yet another married-man-affair in a Village apartment, has already returned to Bridgeport to become a successful weaver, living low-profile in a house she shares with a virgin ex-nun social worker, Mary Boyle. James hardly knows what he wants from Bridgeport--but at least will discover that what he wants from life, in general, is something he's probably already tasted. Howard (Expensive Habits, 1986; Grace Abounding, 1982, etc.), one of the most intelligent and careful of American novelists, has dipped into the narrative-oddity-bag for this one, however. She tells the story anywhichway but straight: through film-like montage techniques; impacted italics; a section dubbed ``double-entry bookkeeping,'' in which left-hand pages comment on or diverge from the story on the right. It's a job, in fact, simply to punch air-holes into Howard's ever-more crabbed paragraphs (``Wool pulled over our eyes and we love it. Big shadow of James, his grandiose gestures. I been telling true. How it came to pass I went into the eternal Cal. light, got my ass out of the swell chair--no knockoff- -out of the swell room'') and figure out what a character is saying. The Bray dignity that is the family's chief mark is always submerged in the muddy shallows of the stylistics; how palpable and real both James and Catherine are must finally be guessed at, rather than sensually appreciated. Puzzlingly self-defeating.