THE REAL WORLD by Tim Paulson


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As in his first novel (Success Story, 1985), Paulson tackles--or lunges at--the trials and tribulations of being a baby-boomer on the edge of 30. It's 1977, New York City, and would-be novelist Tom Petersen has just started work for Niedermann & Associates, the second largest PR firm in the world. As the new kid on the block, he's naturally given some of the choicest accounts--he must flak for asbestos companies, for instance, or Fiberglas makers. But Tom has a strange kind of innocence that keeps him going: even while he's wondering what's happened to his 60's ideals, he's gee-whizzing his way through Midwestern business trips and marveling when someone actually pronounces ""forte"" without the ""e."" His wife, Julia, tries to keep bohemianism alive by managing a brilliant modern-dancer/choreographer, but is treated so badly that she comes clown with arthritis at the age of 28. The solution, of course, is a baby. Tom, in the meantime, is being put through some weird paces at work. His boss, Jack Trill, is a sullen genius, so charismatic that he actually blacks out from time to time (although that may also have something to do with his high-blood pressure). Another fellow worker, Mac Stuart, is hot for Tom. In any event, the three men attend Times Square sex shows, go to gay baths together, and generally exist in a swamp of sexual feelings, never truly consummated, until Mac drops dead of a premature heart attack. Thereafter, Tom sees the true light of what he is--really. He gives up writing: ""Life's enough. I've decided to join the human race."" Which means working as a flak for a downtown investment bank: ""He was so overwhelmed with the sense that what had happened to all of them was meant to be."" Bizarre. One searches in vain for a saving sense of irony here, but Paulson, it seems, is really and truly writing the story of a middle-class dullard who simply took a little longer than most to discover his true identity.

Pub Date: June 7th, 1988
Publisher: Dutton