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Yates' best fiction--The Easter Parade, for example--has depended on a tight, clear focus to convey the affecting shadow of his essentially despairing vision. Here, however, in a gloomy wallow of a novel about failed artists, the dourness is spread out thin--with a dispiriting effect that goes beyond pessimism to sheer depression. Michael Davenport is a 1940s poet, married young to Lucy, a millionairess whose money Michael won't touch; and this choice thrusts them both (eventually daughter Laura as well) into a genteel seediness of Village apartments, rundown Putnam County houses, and hack-work compromises--while Michael doggedly cultivates a less-than-first-rate career. They meet and befriend two painters--one an abstractionist, the other a realist, both of whom seem at first to provide contrast in terms of integrity and success to Michael's deficiencies. And the next two decades will bring divorce from Lucy, mental breakdown, a few unattached girls, and then a new marriage to daughter Laura's high school guidance-counselor. (In the 1960s, Michael rescues hippie Laura from self-destruction--in the novel's only truly moving scene.) Without question, then, Yates does an exhaustive job of exhibiting Michael's paltry life--the alcoholism, the failure, the humiliations of artistic dabbing (a dominant theme in Yates' recent fiction). But the small momentum in Michael's story is dissipated by the novel's overlong middle section--about divorced Lucy's clumsy efforts to establish a post-Michael identity. And, with those two painters also shown up to be phonies or sell-outs, the book ultimately seems less a character-study than a wholesale, passive rejection of all creative endeavor. (""Fuck art, okay?"" Lucy says at the end to Michael. ""Isn't it funny how we've gone chasing after it all our lives?"") In sum: sad and sour, full of realistic details from the artistic life at its most embarrassing--but ultimately too monotonic to be stimulating or persuasive.

Pub Date: Oct. 26th, 1984
ISBN: 0307455963
Publisher: Delacorte