PORTRAIT OF A ROMANTIC by Steven Millhauser


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Rejecting the familiar slave-to-glands/dirty-mind images of post-puberty, Millhauser's claustrophobic second novel may carve closer to the truth of adolescence; perhaps it's precisely the asexual, the antisexual, that seals the cloister of those difficult years. The snug sensations of seeing a friend's room for the first time, of showing off a stamp collection, of being sick and staying home from school--for Arthur Grumm, the sitter for this Romantic portrait, these are precious, heightened rites. His operative words are ""boring,"" ""sullen,"" ""langorous,"" ""brown,"" and any sentence that can begin with ""O!"" is peachy with him. Along with his friends--the upright William, the maudit Philip, the ""phantom"" Eleanor--Arthur wiles away Connecticut summers with either Monopoly or Russian Roulette, bike trips or suicide pacts: ah, does it make any difference? Sigh, Sigh, again: sigh multiplied by almost four hundred pages. As in his muchdiscussed debut, Edwin Mullhouse, Millhauser depends on a knowing reader attuned enough to the resonances of artifice and belabored distortion to resist flinglng the book after the twentieth sullen brown langorous exhalation. But see-whatI'm-doing, metafictional techniques--a doll-house scene, a whole chapter that takes place in the dark--don't help matters, and the constant rotary repetition makes these pages almost airless. Without a real story, this is mostly a portrait of self-consciousness, virtuoso here and there, stupefying everywhere else.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1977
Publisher: Knopf