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Lucien Taylor, the latest in McGuane's series of woeful, repentant, lustful, scornful heroes (Nobody's Angel, Panama, etc.), is first seen here--very effectively--as a 1950s boy, caught in the middle of his parents' jealousy-ridden, violently crumbling marriage. (""After this kind of talk, no one in the family would know to turn up the heat in the winter or close the windows when it rained or put antifreeze in the Thunderbird in November. No one would remember to send crazy Aunt Marie a thank-you note when she forgot to send a Christmas present, and Aunt Marie's Christmas would be ruined."") Unfortunately, however, the young Lucien only appears in this brief opening chapter; the rest of this short novel moves ahead to Lucien in his 30s--ruining his life and wallowing in misery, trying to ""grow up"" while repeating (it seems) parental patterns. A foreign-service officer and would-be painter, Lucien abandons wife Suzanne and son James when he hears that sexy old flame Emily (who dumped him) is in trouble back in Montana, arrested for murdering her doctor-husband. The sexually obsessed Lucien puts up bail-money for Emily; she runs off with somebody else, leaving Lucien her ranch. And now, understandably, Suzanne wants no part of him. ""I am absolutely lost, thought Lucien, I mean absolutely."" He drinks, womanizes, then decides to win Suzanne back by becoming rich, turning the ranch into a hot-springs spa. (""Am I a new man? . . .Am I secretly the same old shitheel, the same old wino from hell who brought down hurricanes of scorn on himself? Is this an American dream?"") Suzanne and fearful young James do at last pay a visit; Lucien doggedly, rather cloyingly, wins them over. And when Emily now appears again, a fugitive from yet another murder-rap, Lucien is able to turn her away--with some hope of an eventual (if not immediate) Suzanne/Lucien reconciliation. McGuane's self-indulgent mannerisms are somewhat less obtrusive this time around--with fewer wisecracks, only one sliver of extraneous farce (mixups with the corpse of a spa guest), and not too many lapses into pretentious/soulful prose. (""He had placed himself on trial but would make the odd exception, because he had seen what little things break our parole from eternity."") But, even in briefer, tauter form, there's limited interest in the writhings of the self-destructive Lucien character--""he would seem to go mad as his unconscious dealt him most of the blows he so richly deserved""--and his ultimate triumph over the Emily obsession fails to deliver the intended uplift.

Pub Date: Oct. 29th, 1984
ISBN: 0394731565
Publisher: Random House