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 Lemann's third novel moves farther away from her native New Orleans, and farther from the engaging and eccentric world of chaos and decay that made her first book (Lives of the Saints, 1985) such a delightful, boozy romp. The girlish voice of Lives here sounds too cutesy, an affectation that no longer suits Lemann's more serious purposeto show that ``honor is home,'' a purpose as ill-conceived as it is awkward-sounding, for the values the author discerns in her pantheon of venerable southern men (honor, decorum, generosity) are as vague as her all-purpose adjective ``old-fashioned.'' Turning to her inestimable New Orleans clans, the Colliers and the Stewarts, Lemann chronicles the big decision in 28-year-old Grace Stewart's life: whether to marry the parochial Monroe Collier, a journalist, or to accept the hand of Walter Sullivan, an investment banker she meets during a family vacation at a Virginia resort. An admitted ``incorrigible flirt'' who cultivates a ``dilapidated air of hopelessness,'' Grace bats her eyelashes a lot and imagines herself a ``failed and tragic figure.'' While slightly crazed Walter copes with insecurities about his purpose in life, Grace introduces him to the ``fiery pantheon'' of the title: a place reserved for the noble men she admires, mostly elderly gents like her father and the judge for whom she clerks. When the Stewarts continue their family sojourn abroad, Walter follows, invited by Grace's mother, who hopes to cure him of his psychic ailments. After Monroe finally joins them somewhere in the Mediterranean, Walter heads to London, where he resumes his work for Merrill Lynch. Only then does Grace realize her mistake: She mistook Monroe's stability and its ``ideal of Southern Living'' as the key to her happiness. A love letter to investment bankers, especially those with poets' souls, this coy and grating fiction fails to convince us of its ``demented scope.'' Instead, Lemann indulges her fondness for all things quaint and dashing, nostalgia for an imagined past.

Pub Date: March 8th, 1998
ISBN: 0-684-84114-2
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1998


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