CUTTING USA by Percival Everett


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John Livesey, 66, a widower and recently retired obstetrician, travels from Virginia to the Oregon coast--where he'll spend the summer with son Elgin (a history professor), pregnant daughter-in-law Lisa, and eight-year-old granddaughter Kathy. And most of this very short novel simply follows John through the summer as he enjoys Kathy's sweet company and forms some bittersweet new attachments: he quickly finds deep friendship with a spunky older couple down the road--until serious illness shadows the tart comaraderie; he also finds renewed vigor and pride in an affair with a beautiful young woman--until disillusionment arrives (in clichÉd melodrama manner). Meanwhile, however, John is becoming increasingly disturbed about Lisa--who's an oddly unenthusiastic mother-to-be. Soon, in fact, he realizes that Lisa is having a secret affair (with Elgin's best pal!), that the baby isn't Elgin's, that his son and granddaughter's future happiness is in jeopardy. So, in the novel's stagy and unconvincing fade-out, John (who has toyed with the idea of killing Lisa's lover) instead prepares to perform a kitchen-table abortion, taking forceful personal responsibility for his family's well-being. Everett (Suder, Walk Me to the Distance) fails to invest John's final act here with thematic heft--despite a portentious prologue in which John is appalled/impressed by a Virginia man's willful decision to deliver his wife's baby at home (complete with do-it-yourself Caesarean). The moral issues involved remain murky; the domestic doings--though flecked with laconic charm and lean narrative force--verge on soap opera. And the ultimate effect is thin, alternately bland and shrill, as if two or three short-stow ideas have been uneasily intertwined.

Pub Date: Nov. 7th, 1986
Publisher: Ticknor & Fields/Houghton Mifflin