AT THE BORDER by Robert Hemenway
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With eloquent gaps between them, these seven story-like sections offer an odd yet enchantingly slow recitation of things flatly done and places used-up--as they fill in the life of Michigan-born, Chicago-educated, New York-residing John Everett. Twice divorced, Everett is still, steadfastly, a sort of knight of romance: "". . . in himself the quest for salvation through (odd) passionate love. . . . He still had hope. He, with his simultaneous impulse to pursue a woman and flee from her. . . . And both pursuit and flight in the name of the highest ideals."" And his life story is an education of the heart, primarily sad. Raised by maternal grandparents after his mother's childbirth-death, Everett has an unattached childhood, a diffident youth. His two marriages seem a sort of failed background to this continued unattachment: Everett seems capable of recapturing his lost life only in things like family gravestones, old lithographs. Yet women and love are constant presences with him--and, when writing of Everett's affairs, Hemenway (The Girl Who Sang With the Beatles) is at his best. ""The Earthly Paradise"" and ""Polly's Girl"" are the prize stories here, then: they describe the course of urban love in too-small New York apartments, around good movies and bargain restaurants and editorial jobs; they convey the palpable sense of unsureness, the man and the woman who lose desire at the very peak moments of connection--and whose fragility then becomes their strongest quality. And these two stories even adapt to this unsure sense in their form: they seem to go on too long, but each succeeding paragraph gradually comes to feel like another uncertain attempt at connection. With his almost ephemeral accents, Hemenway produces a vision of chivalry resurrected in one delicate man: a stunning accomplishment, even if most of the stories don't have the elegant, subtle power of those two standouts.

Pub Date: March 19th, 1984
Publisher: Atheneum