Starting Out in the Evening

Brian Morton, Author
Brian Morton, Author Crown Publishers $25 (352p) ISBN 978-0-517-70862-0
Hardcover - 427 pages - 978-0-7862-1451-8
Paperback - 325 pages - 978-0-425-16869-1
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Morton, a magazine editor whose only previous novel was The Dylanist, is a deceptively simple writer. The beginning of his new book is so apparently artless it gives no hint of the subtle, tender and moving story to come. Leonard Schiller is an elderly novelist, one of the few surviving members of the Upper West Side Jewish intellegentsia of the 1940s and '50s. He has written two books that achieved some good critical attention, two more that disappeared virtually without a trace, but he still labors on--obese, slow and subject to heart murmurs, but trying doggedly to complete a last work before his life gives out. It is a life that has been devoted so singlemindedly to his work, as a sort of cultural duty, that he is unprepared for a dizzy rush of emotion when graduate student Heather Wolfe erupts vividly into his restricted orbit. A worshipful acolyte, she wants to write her thesis on him, perhaps restore him to a place in the literary pantheon. Leonard's daughter Ariel, sweet-naturedly muddling her way through life, a perpetual loser in love, has her own agenda: a baby before it is too late--but with whom? The three interrelate, eventually with Ariel's old flame Casey, too, in many surprising and often touching ways. Their stories are illuminated always with the gentle grace of Morton's writing--for as the narrative builds, it turns out to be far from artless. Only a rather too easy feel-good ending, which leaves an important question unresolved, slightly mars what is otherwise an elegiac tale at once strong-minded and profoundly compassionate. (Jan.)
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