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TOMCAT IN LOVE by Tim O’Brien

TOMCAT IN LOVE

By Tim O’Brien

Pub Date: Sept. 16th, 1998
ISBN: 0-7679-0202-5
Publisher: Broadway

A surprising departure for the usually somber O’Brien (In the Lake of the Woods, 1994, etc.), this time chronicling the pratfalls of a middle-aged would-be Lothario. Looming over Thomas Chippering’s marriage through much of its two decades is the malign presence of his brother-in-law, Herbie Zylstra, a man harboring a peculiarly intense interest in his own sister, Lorna Sue. It’s Herbie who finally fragments Tom and Lorna Sue’s marriage, by revealing to his sister a series of minor deceits Tom’s used to assuage her suspicions of his instability. Her departure, and remarriage to a Florida millionaire, render the generally resilient Tom alternately melancholy and manic, leading him to brood on the fact that “we are all pursued by the ghosts of our own history, our lost loves, our blunders, our broken promises and grieving wives.— Not unsurprisingly, this linguistics professor and (as he mentions on more than one occasion) war hero tries first, haplessly, to win back his wife and then, also unsurprisingly, decides on revenge. He can at least pay back the twisted Herbie—though of course matters quickly veer out of control. While he does manage to derail Lorna Sue’s marriage temporarily, he also becomes involved with the beautiful, and decidedly self-reliant, Mrs. Kooshof, whose husband is languishing in prison. Tom’s decline, meanwhile, becomes a headlong rush as he’s exposed by Herbie, thrashed in front of his students by Lorna Sue’s husband, bereft of his job, of Mrs. Kooshof (seemingly), and briefly of his sanity. Because this is pitched as a farce, much of what happens is meant to be drolly funny and often is. But Tom is exceedingly garrulous (his first-person narrative even sports footnotes), and there are a few pratfalls too many. Still, the end is nicely paced and satisfying, the revelations about many of the characters startling and convincing. A generally successful (if dark-hued) comedy of obsessive love, too long but often ingeniously madcap.