SEA LEVEL by Roger King


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An ambitious and intelligent novel of a midlife crisis from British-born writer King (Horizontal Hotel, 1984)--but one let down by too much consciously fine writing and too few reasons for empathizing with the hero. Narrator Bill Bender has admirably worked his way up and out from his British working-class beginnings--dad Ben was a milkman--to become a successful international consultant. But when dad dies while Bill is on assignment with two Japanese colleagues in the wilds of Pakistan, Bill begins to look into himself--and predictably what he sees is not very pretty. HIS marriage to beautiful French aristocrat Mireille has broken down because Bill's neglected her; his torrid affair with an ambitious but troubled co-worker, Hah, ended because he couldn't commit himself; he has never bothered over the years to find out what his parents were really like; and his work, making loans to Third World countries, is a cynical exercise in corrupting benevolence. The crisis unfolds as Bill leaves Pakistan and heads on another assignment to an idyllic island in the Pacific, where a few years back he had a brief affair. Here, he hunkers down, takes up with his old flame, does his best to help the local economy, and thinks about himself, his parents, and the meaning of life. He imagines a fictive past for his father, which offers a brief consolation, and is finally ready to make his peace with his estranged wife, console his mother, and take up any offer ""sufficiently mixed in its intentions to be given the benefit of my doubt."" Former consultant King makes the descriptions of Bill Bender's work vivid and interesting, but Bill out-of-the-office is a rather conventional salaryman despite all his agonizing. Promising elements.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0595151019
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Poseidon/Simon & Schuster