THE BEHOLDER by Thomas Farber


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From storywriter and non-fictionist Farber, an inert and self-involved second novel (after Curves of Pursuit, 1984) about an affair between an older man and a young woman.

All starts when an aunt asks “the writer” if he’d be so good as to meet a niece who’s finishing a Ph.D., is interested in literature, etc. Sure. Even though the niece is newly married (her aunt doesn’t know it), the meeting goes—very well indeed. The girl’s interest is piqued rather than dampened when, seeing him again, she learns that “writer” is in the habit of hiring models to sit nude while he looks at them, or doesn’t, or makes notes, or does whatever it is genus “writer” does. Models soon become unnecessary as girl and writer embark on an affair of their own—one that before long includes many, many Polaroids that become increasingly up close and personal. But the overt sex (there’s plenty) is as nothing to the groans and somnolence induced by Farber’s missteps and affectations in the delivery of it. In deference to their age difference, the two take to calling each other father” and “my daughter” (father will later become “Zeus”), leading, among other things, to father’s saccharine habit of adjectivizing daughter (“Poor baby . . . cry-baby baby,” even “Good baby” and “Flexible baby”). Writer exults in “how she’s reawakened his love of story!” Yet he gets angry at his daughter for “reading his fiction as autobiography,” says that she “has no right to these stories,” goes even so far as to “retort” that “‘My thoughts are my own.’” A curious notion for a writer. This ghastly stuff continues without any quickening of either into a realized character anyone could care about. Writer, it seems, has had heart trouble, but now he’s better. “His heart. Amazing, that it keeps beating,” he comments. “Steady, undramatic. Over and over again.”

“The mind grinds,” says writer earlier. So do reader’s teeth.

Pub Date: Aug. 5th, 2002
ISBN: 0-8050-6972-0
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2002