In this flaccid first novel, a scientist picks through memories of his marriage to a writer.
He’s no slouch, this Victor Aaron. The 58-year-old geneticist is a top Alzheimer’s researcher; after stints at Harvard and NYU, he’s now professor at a prestigious institute on Maine’s Mount Desert Island. His personal life is a mess since Sara, his wife of 33 years, died in a car accident. Victor has been meeting secretly once a week with Regina, a young postgraduate researcher on campus who writes poetry and enjoys burlesque dancing. Is she just “bereavement therapy”? Maybe so, for the sex has petered out since Victor became impotent, and Sara is always on his mind. When their marriage was going through a rough patch, her therapist had them write about its most important moments; in her index card notes, Sara comes through loud and clear. Professional advancement was important for this childless couple; Sara’s path was rockier than Victor’s. It was not until she turned 40 that she hit paydirt with a feminist play that became a Broadway smash. Another fallow period ended with her greatest success, a screenplay for a romantic comedy. Not surprisingly, Sara and Victor have different memories of these pivotal moments. Their adultery-free marriage is threatened only once, when an ill-chosen word of Victor’s leads to separate bedrooms and Sara’s departure to Los Angeles. The incident confirms the stereotypes of Temperamental Artist and Insensitive Scientist (“Victor listens to neurons, not people”). Baldwin tries to spice up his thinly plotted novel with an array of minor characters (his libertine best friend, his outspoken goddaughter, his gossipy aunt), all of them feistier than the bland Victor.
Fails to achieve liftoff.