WESTFIELD by Roderick Thorp
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100 years and nearly 700 pages of American family saga, charging along on sex, money, and alcohol from mid-19th-century Delmonico's to mid-20th-century Holiday Inns. Pivot point is Michael Westfield, nÉ Monk, a slum orphan adopted by politico-businessman Thomas Westfield at the behest of his sixteen-year-old passion, prostitute Kate Regan. Michael's life is built on lies: lying about his age, hiding his knowledge of Westfield's liaison from his foster-family, secretly killing the men who murdered his real parents. When Westfield senior loses ambitious but ever-loyal Kate and lapses into alcoholism and early death, Michael--more than his oafish foster-brother or Jezebelish foster-sister--takes on the Westfield dream and manic-depressive energy, triumphing as a poker-playing racing tout and as the lover-abductor of proper-plain Emily Reese, who discovers her libido but buries it when Michael dies of cancer. The next generation--Emily's wild sons--goes to pieces via speakeasy gangsterism, bad women, and such, but is scrappy enough to stick around and pass on ""the key to the vault"" to yet another dreaming Michael Westfield. However familiar the skeleton, Thorp fleshes it out with driving, no-frills prose and a born storyteller's nose for sentimental attachments, familial anguish, and evocative territories--Manhattan docks, heady Saratoga, fashionable Brooklyn, unexplored New Jersey. Deathbeds and conjugal beds abound, equally explicit, but nothing seems extraneous, except perhaps the last 200 pages, which, in the absence of brooding Michael the First, flap about with excess incident. Though Thorp surrenders to every cliche that beckons and never digs deeply enough to justify the recurrent ""dream"" persiflage, he has tugged and scratched at enough father-son, brother-brother pressure points (his non-whore women are a sorry, shrewish lot) to whip the vast bulk--and a vast audience--into submission.

Pub Date: Oct. 11th, 1977
Publisher: Crown