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This first novel about a failed marriage begins strong--a fine dramatic premise, a plain and clear narrative voice--but soon withers from its life-style cliches, and eventually just gives up. Jenks rushes the conclusion with a hastily added coda that drifts into improbability. As it is, the shifts in time and place here leave too many unanswered questions about this man hardened by a dark secret. Carl Freeman, a Virginia preppy manquÉ, indulges the simple life--carpenter chic--on his farm outside Charlottesville. There, he tries to get along with his mean-spirited neighbors, proves himself an inept farmer, and manages to find love with a college-educated waitress given to drag flashbacks. Working construction barely makes the payments on the land once owned by the inbred and malevolent family that now leases most of it. Drawn into their sordid lives, Carl accidentally kills a man and coven it up, clinging to his secret beyond reason. Kath, who becomes his wife, never knows about it, even years later in New York, where Carl is now a hugely successful real-estate developer with guilt eating away at his soul. Neither smoke nor drink nor his workaholic habits can obliterate the pain. Even his son, Owen, a moody boy who sulks at his father's prolonged absences, provides little joy. Predictably, as Carl gains in fame and fortune, Kath becomes unhappier, feeling ""dead"" inside--""a romantic in a failing romance"" who also worries about which private school will admit her son. She and Owen agree that ""Carl's not nice,"" meaning that he once broke her nose, among other nasty things. Through the marital estrangement and the professional rise and fall, Carl never shares his secret, proving himself more obtuse than anything else. The underdeveloped contrasts between country and city, South and North, and past and present allow for a rather simplistic story about trading one style of life for another--and make for a thin read.

Pub Date: April 16th, 1990
ISBN: 055334854X
Publisher: Bantam