VACANT PLACES by Stanley Middleton


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Prolific English author Middleton's third novel to be published in the US (Valley of Decision, Entry into Jerusalem); once again, a steady performance that quietly goes about its business--in this case, the life of an accountant/playwright whose ex-wife wants to remarry him and whose brother suffers from clinical depression. Henry Fairfax works during the day for entrepreneur Conrad LeJeune and at night writes radio plays: ""My plays for all the foolishness. . .at least make out something. . . about human dignity, decency."" That quote easily enough serves as a summary of Middleton's own motivation. After nine years of marriage to Laura (Conrad's sister), Henry has suffered through a painful divorce and must also deal with brother James, a teacher who at the death of their mother went into a tailspin, and sister-in-law Molly, who calls upon him often for advice. Molly and Henry talk interminably about James, who is unhappy as a teacher, and then Laura invites herself, tactfully, to Henry's place. The plotlines converge: Laura suggests that she may have a job for James, while Henry, hearing rumors of LeJeune's corporate expansion, fears a layoff. Laura soothes his fears, and Henry joins her in London for a romantic weekend; Laura proposes that they remarry. Cautious Henry mulls over her offer and works on his plays. Meanwhile, Laura is an astounding business success, so much so that Henry wonders whether her proposal still stands; Henry and Molly, both depressed, make love; and Henry's father dies. Finally, though, the strings are sorted out, and the marriage is on again: (Laura) ""I chose right the first time, but I wasn't ready for you. Now I know better."" ""My sort of writing depends on looking at life as it is,"" Henry muses, and that steady process of attempting to do what is proper, despite awful mistakes, is Middleton's subject. A solid, successful effort.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1989
Publisher: New Amsterdam