An Imaginative Experience: 8a Novel

Mary Wesley, Author Viking Books $21.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-670-85649-7
Those who relished Wesley's A Sensible Life and the seven other novels in which she displays her tart tongue, mordant humor and laser eye for human foibles, may be a bit taken aback by her latest effort. Compared to her previous work, this novel is both more sentimental and more cynical; it lacks some of the edgy balance that made the earlier books deliciously distinctive. When Julia Piper pulls the emergency cord on an InterCity train to London and leaps off to rescue a sheep in a field, astonished observers can't know that she's returning from the funeral of her husband and small son, killed in a car crash that was alcoholic Giles Piper's final destructive act. But two of those observers-book agent and sometime novelist Sylvester Wykes, who is heartbroken and humiliated by the failure of his marriage, and nasty ne'er-do-well birdwatcher Maurice Benson-eventually meet up with Julia, through a series of coincidences that are sometimes credible, sometimes not. Unbeknownst to each other, they will conduct an invisible tug of war between benevolence and malevolence that will determine Julia's future. Wesley's prose is as spare and witty as usual, but this time her acerbic view of human nature seems positively dyspeptic. All the male characters, save Sylvester and a kindly Pakistani grocer, are alcoholics, lechers and abusers of women. In Wesley's books, there's always one character that one wants to strangle, and here it's Clodagh May, Julia's mother, but several others come dangerously close to being equally odious. Wesley's abhorrence of racism is neatly underscored by having both British and American bigots; but, in the end, most characters are so rude, racist, uncivil and selfish that the fated romance between Julia and Sylvester seems to flower in a noxious wasteland. Wesley's dialogue still comes bouncing off the page, and she still produces observations that make other writers seem to write with blinders on, but the rickety plot of this one makes it not quite up to standard. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 04/03/1995
Release date: 04/01/1995
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