JACKS OR BETTER by T. S. Matthews


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After T. S. Matthews' autobiographical Name and Address appeared in 1960, Robert Graves, an old friend, congratulated him ""on not having tried 'to put down the Schuyler story in full: one that couldn't be told intelligibly and fairly in cold print.'"" Now he's unscrewed the cap, and it was a mistake: as told, the story manages to be both bizarre and banal, as well as vastly unappealing. At Princeton (1919-22) Matthews was bowled over by classmate Schuyler Jackson, ""the handsomest human being, with the most brilliant and perceptive mind, I had ever met."" Some years later, on Mallorca, he was drawn moth-to-flame-like into poet Laura Riding's ""hermetic"" circle where even Robert Graves, who had left wife and family for her, was a pawn. Returning home singed but still aflutter, Matthews conceives the notion of bringing his two cynosures together. Along the way he has, at great length, married his prep school-Princeton-Oxford sweetheart, the ""meltingly pretty"" Julie, and settled into a sexual funk--while outwardly prospering as town-of-Princeton elite and managing editor of Time. Schuyler, failed poet, editor, and farmer, lives nearby, anchored, apparently, by marriage to ""backwoods aristocrat"" Kit. When Laura and Robert appear, the tight, tense foursome becomes a meritocracy marshaled by Laura to save the world from war--but, more immediately, manipulated, mesmerized (""What were we waiting for?""), demoralized. . . until Kit breaks. She is taken to a mental hospital, scarred for life; Schuyler supplants Robert (who returns home); and Julie and Tom gradually shake off Laura's ""white witchery."" This, at any rate, is Matthews story--of a macabre two weeks in 1939, tragic for Kit and the Jackson children, decisive for Laura and Schuyler (who marry and settle permanently in Florida), and seemingly of obsessive interest to Matthews, his downfall of the gods. But whether the revelation--or its petty, unsavory follow-up-- demonstrates anything beyond his own lifelong weakness is doubtful.

Pub Date: Oct. 26th, 1977
Publisher: Harper & Row