TO THE SARGASSO SEA by William McPherson


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Bad news for admirers of McPherson's first novel, Testing the Current (1984): using the same protagonist, he has followed that coming-of-age work with a midlife crisis story that is turgid beyond belief. Andrew (formerly Tommy) MacAllister is 40 now (it's 1971), and the envy of his friends, what with his happy marriage, adorable little girl, two homes, and perenially promising playwright's career. But little happens in this long, talky novel. Andrew takes his family to London for the opening of his new play, which is a hit. They return to New York. Two months later, Andrew and wife Ann spend a few days in Bermuda, guests of a producer who hopes to transfer Andrew's hit to Broadway. These people know their Great Writers: they quote Wallace Stevens over tea, Goethe on the beach, and Horace in the aircraft cabin; all come trippingly off the tongue. The key moments occur in London, where Andrew allows himself to be seduced by an older woman (and family friend), and in Bermuda, where the seducer is a young English homosexual. Piecing together the quotations that dot the text like buoys, the reader infers that these couplings are ""morbid symtoms"" (Gramsci) of a profound change in Andrew. Hitherto a family man who admired conformity and shunned ""extravagant behavior"" (Montaigne), he now hears a voice saying ""You must change your life"" (Rilke). The message comes through again in his beach book: ""To resist Dionysus is to resist the elemental in one's own nature"" (The Greeks and the Irrational). But will Andrew change? Or resist? Here, alas, we are left hanging: Andrew and the unsuspecting Ann return to New York without a resolution. Whatever happened to the humor and observant eye of McPherson's earlier work? Both are lacking in this insufferably pretentious and self-indulgent sequel, and in its spoiled brat of a protagonist.

Pub Date: June 2nd, 1987
Publisher: Simon & Schuster