SAY GOODBYE TO SAM by Michael J. Arlen


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Oedipal conflict and catharsis, gracefully but rather too obviously laid out--as narrator Tom Avery, N.Y. journalist, takes his lovely new wife for a visit to the ranch of famous father Sam. Tom is 39, the author of well-received non-fiction books, snugly happy with wife #2, calm Catherine--though resisting her yen for parenthood. So now, after years of semi-estrangement from legendary movie-director Sam (and after the death of Tom's long-divorced mother), ""I thought I'd be strong enough to make him like me."" Unsurprisingly, however, 72-year-old Sam--macho, acerbic, gallant with Catherine, competitive with Tom--is as threatening and rejecting as ever; Catherine is enchanted with his raunchy storytelling, his outdoorsy vigor, his still-active wheeling and dealing; there's a new tension between the couple, Tom's virility waning while he tries to deny his jealousy of Sam. (""I felt he made things safe for her in ways I couldn't; and that she made things safe for him, in ways I also couldn't."") Then, when Tom--with unconscious intent?--leaves Sam and Catherine alone together for a day, he suddenly ignites into a jealous rage, returning to the ranch to discover that Sam has made a pass at Catherine. From there Tom immediately turns to hurried sex with an older neighbor-woman who reminds him of his mother (""Yes, ummistakably her face!""), thus exorcising some Oedipal drives. And finally, when Sam's affair with his Hispanic housekeeper leads to tawdry violence, Tom sees his father as life-sized (""Is that all there is of him?"") for the first time--after which he's ready to accept Sam as he is, with benefits for his own growth as man and husband. Arlen, author of superior TV-commentary and exquisite personal explorations (Exiles, Passage to Ararat) is only slightly less plainly stylish in his first novel--with finely selective background details and vividly sketched characters (especially a visiting whiz-kid screenwriter). There's initial appeal, too, in the possible autobiographical resonances here--since Arlen had a very famous father of his own. Finally, however, this father/son tale seems too familiar and predictable for strong involvement or impact, with the bare bones of clinical psychology poking through too often, too obtrusively.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux