THE GOLDEN GATE by Vikram Seth


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A verse novel, inspired, the writer tells us, by a translation of Pushkin's Eugen Onegin. Sonnets, hundreds of them, in tetrameter, devoted to the matching and mismatchings, hetero- and homo-, of a group of San Francisco yuppie friends: a lot of work to say very little. . .yet with an undeniably admirable talent for verse inventiveness. John, a Silicon Valley exec, meets Liz, a lawyer. John's best friend, Phil, a divorced father who has recently given up his job at John's defense-oriented company on moral grounds, finds himself in love with Liz's brother Ed; but Ed, Catholic and guilt-ridden, breaks it off. And when John and Liz part, Hz and Phil pair off. . .while John rediscovers old flame Jan. . .until tragedy strikes. . . The verse helps (it better). It dissolves as a formal insistence after a while, and Seth is able to keep things rolling quite nicely--just as long as you don't think too hard about the very stupid narrative. Now and then digressions side-track it--an anti-nuke demonstration that proves that political action is no better handled in rhyme than in prose, a long diatribe about the bad effects on sexual happiness of religion (""While privileged ecclesiarchs/ Grow fat on blat, cut queues and corners/ And like battalions of Jack Horners/ Extract plump plums from the joint pie"")--but not for long. Eventually the coy rhythms do annoy--but by that time the tour de force has been secured. Seth deserves all the applause he'll get for pyrotechnics of a sideshow variety; but with neither an epic sweep to justify a dithyramb nor more than the most mundane hack's talent for emotional complexity of character, the book seems destined to be only this season's curio, lodged somewhere between cleverness and silliness.

Pub Date: April 14th, 1986
Publisher: Random House