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De Vries at his least ambitious and most agreeable--downplaying the social satire, upgrading the literary whimsy and Groucho-esque sex farce. The Peckham of the title is another of De Vries' fortune-hunter heroes, but one who also recalls the outlandish intellectual snobbery of Reuben, Reuben: he's Earl Peckham, 45-ish au thor of The Sorry Scheme of Things Entire, an exquisitely written novel which has sold a grand total of three copies. First discovered recuperating from hepatitis at the rest home owned by rich Mrs. DelBelly (read Margaret Dumont), Earl makes an impetuous play for Mrs. D., proclaiming her a woman of ""great fiscal attraction."" (In ""this day of sloppy diction,"" Mrs. D. doesn't notice the slip--but laughs off Earl's advances anyway.) Somewhat more receptive is Mrs. D.'s comely, witty niece--but she turns out to be an alcoholic with a looming fiancÉ. Unlucky in love, then, Earl sets off (none too plausibly) on a pilgrimage to the Midwest, determined to autograph those three sold copies of his novel. His path crosses that of Poppy McCloud, best-selling schlocker, the new focus for ""the progressively swelling crescendo of outrage that was his current life."" But, strangely enough, Earl falls hard for gorgeous Poppy, and vice versa--with a hot hotel rendezvous. (""His passion seemed to convert itself into a torrent of substandard prose as he mentally articulated what they physically enacted."") And the novel's second half chronicles the Earl/Poppy live-in relationship back in posh Westchester: he encourages her to blue-pencil her new manuscript (""Take this out and run the lawn mower over it""); then, using Svengali-like hypnosis, he turns Poppy into a New Yorker. style story-writer (to the dismay of her agent and publisher); in fact, ""in the end she was fit for his friends--or would have been if he'd had any."" Thin and episodic, the story here is insubstantial even by De Vries standards, without a vivid supporting cast. Still, less-than-lovable Earl is a splendid anti-hero whose bitter, whimsical mind-play ranges from loopy literary allusions to publishing-biz satire to more offbeat slivers of comic invention. Never unpleasant or unfunny (like some recent De Vries efforts), often reminiscent of Perelman and other New Yorker giants: a low-key, high-level bagatelle.

Pub Date: Oct. 5th, 1986
Publisher: Putnam