The American Ambassador

Ward S. Just, Author
Ward S. Just, Author Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) $17.95 (326p) ISBN 978-0-395-42694-4
Reviewed on: 03/01/1987
Release date: 03/01/1987
The 1986 winner of England's Booker Prize, and by all accounts doing very well over there, this novel about a group of elderly Welsh people and their romantic and alcoholic shenanigans is likely to have tougher sledding on this side of the Atlantic. Amis, as usual, offers some funny and even touching moments, but his peculiarly elliptical comic style takes some getting used to. His four aging couplesthree stay-at-homes, responding to the return among them of a TV poet, who has been a success in England, and his wifeare well enough characterized, but once the reader is inside their heads, they all think Amis thoughts: often surly, resentful, nostalgic and deeply conservative. (In one remarkable lunchtime scene several of the protagonists grumble about ""the penal system, the health service, the BBC, black people,'' varying this with ``eulogies of President Reagan, Enoch Powell, the South African government, the Israeli hawks . . . ,'' and there is no indication the author is anything but sympathetic.) The sheer quantity of boozing that goes on is dizzyingthe men favoring whiskey and gin, the women (no really glaring misogyny here, only the usual undertone of Amis dislike) white wine. The expertise on the stages of drunkenness and hangover is, as always, awesome, but by the rather unfocused ending, which includes a sudden death, a wedding and a tentative reconciliation, the reader is likely to be as befuddled as most of the characters. (March)
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