A gardener slices through a backyard phone line in Stratford, Ontario, and a couple of theater people find their marriage disastrously unraveling—in this loose-limbed and hardly convincing latest by loquacious Canadian Findley (Pilgrim, 2000, etc.).
In the Clinton-Lewinsky summer of 1998, Jane Kincaid, originally from a wealthy family in Plantation, Louisiana, is a fairly contented artist and property designer who wants only to be able to buy the house she lives in with her husband, Griffin, a rising actor at Stratford’s Shakespeare Festival Theatre, and seven-year-old son Will. Bizarre events—a visit from an old high school boyfriend who then ends up dead in a fiery accident; sexual blackmail by Griff's director Jonathan Crawford, who withholds the best acting parts for sexual favors—send Jane into some heavy drinking of her favorite Australian wine. When the phone line is severed by the gardener, an Adonis enters Jane’s life in the form of the Bell repairman (he’s actually a young Pole named Milos Saworski who has a pious peasant wife and a sick baby), and a sexual crisis is precipitated. As Griffin moves away from her, seduced both by Crawford and by his own ambition, Jane lures the Bell boy to pose naked for her, both parents all the while ignoring son Will and the solicitous eyes of their loyal housekeeper Mercy. Findley is fond of convoluted plotting, but his tale this time around reads like a bored exercise in formula fiction. Variously, Jane’s southern belle background is explored, a local murder introduced, and Shakespeare’s plays analyzed, as if the author were fishing for any next angle to pursue. Moreover, Griffin’s unalloyed treachery in abandoning wife and child seems too evil to be assuaged by the happy ending that’s attendant.
Neither disjointed stream-of-consciousness scene changes nor gallons of wine can make a reader care for these characters.