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Australian Astley's 11th novel, in which a fusillade of sizzlers directed at sexual politics (fools, and their dangerous follies in group power-grabs, have been featured in previous novels) offers a lively background to a young woman's search for a love that will remain fixed, not turn sour, and that will offer a ""center"" that will hold. In the end, she chooses a man long dead. Belle's mother, Bonnie--separated shortly after Belle's birth from her American trumpet-player/husband Huck--returned to Australia and the family farm, from which Belle, at seven, will be untimely ripped. Mother and Aunt Marie (another true nut) are off on a career as a musical twosome, specializing in ""cornball rhythms. . .mother drumming and Aunt Marie chopping away at a yellow-fanged upright."" Belle eventually exists in a seedy seaside boardinghouse (featuring guests ""with a strong flavor of Diane Arbus""), attempting at one point to join forces with Boredom by compiling a list of all convent-school girls who learned to play that old chestnut for the pianoforte, ""Rustle of Spring,"" between 1945 and 1960. There's school, a spate of teaching, and marriage to Seb--he of large but undistinguished ego. Belle does have a meeting with Huck in New York, but he, too, slips away. Then in an old photo of pioneers in a ""one-story town"" is an ""interesting"" face, a Mr. Gaden Lockyer. who's been dead since the 1920's. Belle inexplicably begins researching through stacks, finally hunting down survivors, to plan a move backwards in time to Lockyer. Will they meet, could they meet, like railroad tracks at ""a mystic vanishing point?"" In Lockyer's journal, there's a sighting of Belle--or is there? Astley's ponder-points concerning philosophic/psychic diddling with concepts of time and reality are tangential to her social satire and round-up of both delightful eccentrics and royal pains. But like Astley's others: always intelligent, fresh, and new.

Pub Date: April 26th, 1990
Publisher: Putnam