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If I had to marry Miss Doubloon, would I be allowed to whisper and chew gum in the house?"" So wonders 15-year-old Tony Thrasher, an overage eighth-grader in 1960s North Dakota (""I had been kept back a year in the seventh grade thanks to time spent reading Joyce and Proust that should have gone into homework""), when he learns that his one afternoon as teacher's pet has resulted in the pregnancy of witty, cynical Miss Maggie Doubloon. A few mildly farcical attempts are made to secure the pills needed to effect a miscarriage: Tony squirms and filches his way around the local pharmacy, ending up (in his ignorance) with a handful of birth-control pills. But soon both Miss D. and Tony decide to brazen out the scandal--she by creating and wearing a T-shirt with a red A+ (The Scarlet Letter is a major motif here), he by 'fessing up to his mother and minister-father. (""Well, so be it, I guess,"" says Tony's dad. ""Once an underachiever, always an underachiever."") And the novel's much weaker second half takes place a couple of years later: Tony visits Miss D. in Kalamazoo, where she's raising baby Ahab and making a mint from her scarlet-letter T-shirt business; he spends a lot of time with Miss D.'s wealthy, reminiscing grandfather; and--after some noble attempts at ""cooling the hots""-Tony finds Sex+Love with Ahab's luscious nursemaid, Bubbles Breedlove. . . . This, then, is one of the thinner variations on the De Vries sex-comedy-of-manners--with only a slight boost from the anti-prudery satire. (And a subplot involving Reverend Thrasher's loss-of-faith-after a debate with Mrs. T.'s atheist/lover--is equally thin theological amusement.) But, as in other recent De Vries novels, there's considerable pleasure here--in the verbal textures, the eclectic allusions, the sometimes-hilarious asides. . . and in one sneakily tender little little setpiece' Tony and his mother, caught in a blizzard while delivering Christmas cards, take refuge with arthritic Ma Pettigrew, so afflicted that she must crawl on hands and knees to answer the door. (""It must be the memory of this scene--my poor dear floury mother, deprived of outline by the storm through which she had come, reaching a Christmas card to the bony old claw upraised to receive it--in this tableau must be embedded my abiding sense of indomitable Womankind. I have suffered at its hands seduction, scandalmongering, chicanery, garrulity, silence, false witness, non sequitur, prune whip, and quotation out of context, but respect has endured and affection prospered."") Minor, rather smirky De Vries--with frequent surfacings, however, of that grand Midwestern/mandarin wordplay.

Pub Date: July 28th, 1983
ISBN: 0226143899
Publisher: Little, Brown