LOVERS by Norma Klein


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Fifteen years of a dreary adulterous affair in N.Y. suburbia--as narrated by three of the participants at chatty, digressive length. In 1966 Mo Greene, 40, secretly knows that his 30-year-old wife Marilyn is having an affair with neighbor Benjy Fetterman, who's short, white-haired at 30, and looks ""like a shnook, like a nonentity! Maybe women like that. I don't know. Tell me. What do they like? I wish I knew."" Meanwhile, as Mo chats about his own casual infidelities and fills in his family/business background, Marilyn and Benjy give their versions of their love affair: Marilyn, who sounds more like a teenager than a mother of two, talks about her two sons, her muted love for Mo (she knows he's unfaithful), and her tender passion for unprepossessing Benjy (""Now I think Benjy's the handsomest man that ever lived practically""); and guilt-ridden Benjy, while marveling at the sexual glow of the Marilyn affair, talks mostly about his adored wife Becky (preppy, bovine), their four daughters, his promiscuous sister Ginger, and his nervousmaking career switch from lawyering (like his father) to furniture-design. Then, jump to 1976: Mo, who thinks the Marilyn/Benjy affair is long over (it ain't), takes his timid teenage son Linus to a Boston prostitute for deflowering; Marilyn, whose household is threatened by the sexy ways of her older son's girlfriend, suffers terribly when Benjy breaks off their ten-year love-match; Benjy suffers too, comes back to her. In 1981, the affair goes on, Mo beds a new mistress (and finds out a secret about an old one), Benjy's daughters go different sexual ways, Marilyn has a mastectomy, Benjy's guilts escalate--and he's suddenly dead of a heart attack at 45 (at one daughter's wedding). So Marilyn has a breakdown--but emerges from it able to look forward to continuing joys from career, motherhood, and grand-motherhood. . . even while Mo (who knows now about the longterm affair) realizes that ""something's gone, some spark dimmed. But, you can't win them all, right. And he's dead, I'm alive. What else counts?"" Throughout, Klein displays her usual strengths--well-observed details, small recognition-moments, Jewish-American domestic atmospheres. But none of the three major players here is especially appealing or interesting; the 15-year affair itself, despite all the jawing, remains unconvincing. And the overextended format (Klein's best adult fiction comes in short-story form) only tends to emphasize a fundamental shallowness and vulgarity. Suburban soap with a few sharp edges, then--but likely to please Klein regulars.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Viking