My Summer with George

Marilyn French, Author
Marilyn French, Author Alfred A. Knopf $23 (0p) ISBN 978-0-679-44774-0
Paperback - 243 pages - 978-0-345-40965-2
Hardcover - 978-0-517-19932-9
Hardcover - 294 pages - 978-0-7089-9022-3
Ebook - 243 pages - 978-1-4804-4493-5
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The passionate indignation and insight into women's lives that made French a household name in the 1970s, when The Women's Room issued a feminist manifesto, has dwindled to a few dim sparks here. French follows the daily summer routine and reminiscences of 60-ish Hermione Beldame, formerly Elsa Schutz, a wildly successful romance novelist who splits her time between her Fifth Avenue pad and a Sag Harbor house. Hermione is supposed to be a complex and sophisticated creature, but she comes across as self-absorbed and silly. The irony of her situation is lost on her: she writes about idealized romance and love but finds herself entangled in a ridiculous relationship with George Johnson, a dejected, potbellied newspaper editor from Louisville, whose volatile behavior veers between intense interest and bald rejection. Hermione convinces herself that she is in love with George because he is the opposite of a romance hero; actually, the guy is a drip and the romance takes place solely in Hermione's fantasies and awful articulations: ""My heart leaped out of my body and flew to encompass him.'' While there is a certain poignancy in the dilemma of a worldly woman still yearning for her Prince Charming, the narrative comes alive only in the flashbacks to Hermione's youth in a poor household and her horrible marriage in the 1950s. But French tries the reader's patience before she gets to the gist of her message: that women of a certain age, raised on the ""neurotic'' myth of romantic love and still active with erotic desire, are doomed to sexually starved decades as they lose their attractiveness to men. A romance novel has, at the very least, the good manners not to take itself seriously, but the simplistic My Summer with George presents itself as witty and wise. (Aug.)
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