PEYTON AMBERG by Tama Janowitz


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Still best known for Slaves of New York (1986), Janowitz, in her ninth fiction, details the sexual odyssey of a self-described slut.

Peyton was raised in Boston on the wrong side of the tracks, where sexual innocence was a sign of weakness. Her well-bred mother, Nell, was disowned after marrying a car mechanic, who later deserted them. Manic-depressive Nell is responsible for Peyton’s low self-esteem, always telling her she has no brains; so, despite her stunning attractiveness, she has no idea how to market herself. It’s sheer good luck that she meets Barry Amberg, a nice Jewish boy from Long Island just starting out as a dentist, with a thing for “dark-haired shiksas with big boobs.” His mother, Grace, pegs Peyton as a tramp but still foots the bill for a huge fancy wedding. The Jamaican honeymoon is not a success, though Barry is crazy about his “sexy princess” and Peyton is glad to have married up, though she’s bothered that Barry “didn’t seem to exist.” He exists for the reader, but only as the stereotype of a hypochondriac Jew, while Peyton is little more than a collection of body parts. This nonlinear narrative randomly splices scenes from Peyton’s married life (the two produce one child) with various extramarital sexual escapades. Her first splurge happens in Rio, early in the marriage, with Germano, a cosmopolitan and filthy-rich older man. (Peyton is a travel agent now.) Years later, closing in on 50, Peyton has the hots for this Chinese guy in Hong Kong, a thief preying on rich airline passengers; but again, the sex is wild, which makes it all okay. After he dumps her, Peyton hits rock bottom. We leave her in Antwerp, lice in her hair, nowhere to turn.

Occasional flashes of humor (the honeymoon is a good comic sketch), but overall dreary and joyless: those sexcapades aside, the novel is permeated by a disgust for the body that extends to Peyton suckling her baby.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-312-31844-8
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2003


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