HER SIDE OF IT by Thomas Savage
Kirkus Star


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With a precise feel for the wounds suffered by gifted individuals doomed to relative obscurity, Savage's fine new novel follows some stifled semi-heroes. . . while raking over the literary world--with a vengeance. Elizabeth Chandler Phillips, whose first two novels (critically admired, otherwise ignored) were published in the Forties and Fifties, admits that she's ""attracted to unable, inept people""--like worshiping, despairing, probing narrator Bill Reese, an expendable, untenured college teacher. Is this because Liz's beloved father Frank (gangling, awkward, with ""eyes so mild one had the impression he had an early and successful dialogue with Christ"") was that sort of man? So it seems, as Liz--now in a fifth-floor apartment in a ruined Manhattan brownstone--reveals her life history to friend Bill: Montana childhood with flighty mother Flo and increasingly unstable father Frank; a mother-daughter desertion of poor, mad Frank, with adolescence in an Iowa town (home of a harsh grandmother) as Liz grows in confidence, brilliance, discernment; a short-story prize at college (typically, Liz will be cheated out of the prize money); marriage to drama teacher Hal Phillips, who shares everyone's confidence in Liz's genius and a bright, cushy future. But by the time Bill starts to learn all this from Liz, she's on the downhill road. Her marriage withers and dies. The money problems--especially with Hal's aristocratic yens--continue to be overwhelming. There's drinking, a distasteful (lucrative) affair with a lesbian. And, always, Bill can see--in Liz's unconscious postures--the pathos of the outcast's ache ""to pass. . . to pass."" Savage's prose here has a Fitzgeraldian shimmer--simplicity with a treacherously affecting undertow--as he records the anguish of ""understanding that we are no longer what we thought or hoped to be."" And the sheer sadness is shrewdly balanced with comedy: acidulous academic portraits, hilarious vignettes of a writers' conference and artsy-Manhattan poseurs, the dandy milk-punch banter as Liz and Bill burlesque literary cliches. All in all--first-rate work from a writer who is under-read, under-sung, and long overdue for some grand-scale attention.

Pub Date: March 25th, 1981
Publisher: Little, Brown