THE BOYS OF WINTER by Wilfrid Sheed
Kirkus Star

THE BOYS OF WINTER

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Jonathan Oglethorpe, the terminally jaundiced narrator of Sheed's latest literary-world satire (cf. The Hack, Max Jamison, Office Politics), is a middle-aging, divorced N.Y. book-editor, possessed of ""a hatred of writers that survives all my fleeting crushes."" Nonetheless, Jonathan spends not just summers but winter weekends in the Hamptons, where his neighbors--comrades in boozing, talking, fighting, and playing (or planning) softball--include four practitioners of the middlebrow novel. Two have been published by Jonathan for decades: popular standby Cecily Woodruff; and Southern gent Ferris Fender, Civil War specialist and manly homosexual. (""One pictures him buggering his aide-de-camp before charging on Gettysburg."") Billy van Dyne, talented but non-commercial, aches for Jonathan to publish him--and might even, if it would help, allow his comely wife to seduce our promiscuous hero (holder of the ""indoor record for trivial intercourse""). And then there's Waldo Spinks, a colorful Mailer-manquÉ and fading Big Name--who has just agreed to let Jonathan publish his new novel (which no one else wants anyway). To Jonathan's chagrin, however, Waldo's manuscript turns out to be a roman à clef about the Hamptons featuring a nasty portrait of a certain editor. Furthermore, Jonathan himself is writing just such a roman à clef (the one we're reading, more or less), an act of anti-writer revenge after years of ""kissing second-rate ass."" So, as the book nears publication, Jonathan wrestles with rivalry, ego, greed, and sneakily abusive Waldo. Meanwhile, summer brings softball fever--and petty feuds galore: tension between those who just want to have sloppy fun and those (including hot-shot Cecily) who want to build a winning team. But the real trouble comes with the arrival of vacationing movie-director Marty Hearthstone and his glitzy entourage: Marry teases the local writers with option offers; the Hollywood crowd turns a softball game into a mockery of the writers' athletic strivings; and the escalating humiliations unhinge the always-volatile Waldo--with violent results that lurch (not very convincingly) from black-comic mayhem to psycho-melodrama. The novel's switches into serious gear--Waldo's self-destruction, Jonathan's maturation (settling down with Cecily)--are ill-supported by the flat, cartoonish characterization. Nor is much gained by Sheed's half-hearted toying with metafictional manuscript games. Still, though despair and ennui are always just below the brittle surface, this is more consistently entertaining and sprightly than the doleful Transatlantic Blues (1978)--with richly foul barroom dialogue, authentically sour book-world atmosphere, and beautifully turned comic insults on almost every page.

Pub Date: Aug. 7th, 1987
Publisher: Knopf