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THE BREAKS by Richard Price

THE BREAKS

A Novel

By Richard Price

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1982
ISBN: 0312566514
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Price (The Wanderers, Bloodbrothers) left the Bronx behind with Ladies Man, putting all his remarkably pent-up novelistic energies onto the shoulders of increasingly articulate but shudderingly jumpy young men--the newest of which is Peter Keller, this book's narrator and (in a way) only character. Peter is the first college grad in his lower-middle-class Yonkers family--and as if that is some obscure sin, he promptly sabotages a brightish future by taking demeaning jobs (the Post Office, telephone solicitation). Then, to provoke his wimpy father and stepmother even further, Peter gets himself into real trouble by making bomb threats on the phone. He's caught, probationed--and, in the worst of several plot-lurches here, he's rescued by his friend Fat Jack, who (as department chairman) hires Peter to be a freshman-composition instructor at his alma mater in upstate New York. And there, in the small college town, Peter comes to meet older-woman Kim Fonesca--who's separated from husband Tony (a streetwise yet failed writer also on the faculty), who writes stories herself (more successfully than Tony), but who soon reveals that she needs a regular beat-me-then-stroke-me cycle from men. Hall a dozen times in this longish book, then, Price fastens onto a meld of intricate emotional needs--ambition, masochism, self-destruction--and astounding hysterics: Peter with his parents; Kim's sexual requirements; Peter's obsessive need to never let things well enough alone; Tony's desperate search for his once-glimpsed promise. Each time, however, the tension and energy collapse: each emotional drama gets caught against the wall as Price revolves the door too fast. And, since everyone in the novel--like Peter--turns out to be an obscure sinner-and-atoner, a whining monotony eventually takes over. Still, there are wonderful pages here: Price in his junior-Lenny-Bruce suit halls clown everything second-rate in extraordinary paragraphs of description; Peter at his best recalls some of Philip Roth's men, who are never unaware of how terribly they are mucking things up. And, though flabby and badly timed as a novel (the good climax comes far too late to be truly effective), this is grimly involving in fits and starts--and evidence of a stretching, growing, if problematic talent.