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Whatever happened to lovemaking in the afternoon, midnight caresses, hard-ons at dawn?"" A familiar question, since there's no need to ask whatever happened to first-person hopscotches through the wife-mistress-career traumas of the middle-aged husband and father. They're always with us. Especially in academia, where 40-ish writer-in-residence Eliot Warren, ""hoist on the petard of [wife] Erica's feminism,"" moves out, forced to spend altogether too much time with colleagues and undergrad Californians. With, for instance, protege-manque Willy, who's into ""His-Con"" (History of Consciousness) and slightly mad, easily shifting from hero-worship to hate-mail when he detects the slightest disloyalty (a smooch with Willy's wife) in Eliot. Or with sophomore prose-poets who specialize in ""not words, man, word patterns. The warp and woof of word texture."" And with nineteen-year-old Nina, a ""collector's item in bed,"" a leading demonstrator for the right to go nude on campus, and a stern judge of the ""proper marriage of gin and vermouth."" As Eliot slogs back and forth between his moody women, Stegner slides around in the no-man's land where satire and sentiment do fine in spots but ultimately cancel each other out. And when the pre-fab episodes have just about run their course--day-with-the-kid, Zen weekend by Big Sur, wifediscovers-all--he's plucky enough to have a down-to-earth buddy address Eliot thusly: "". . . if you could detach yourself from self-pity and angst long enough . . . you'd realize that what you're into is the oldest, most repeated, most cliched situation man has ever found himself in."" So Stegner knows the problem--but, even with full points for crisp phrasing and dark humor, he hasn't got the fresh, true characters to overcome it.

Pub Date: Sept. 22nd, 1977
Publisher: Atlantic/Little, Brown