Leading the Cheers

Justin Cartwright, Author
Justin Cartwright, Author Carroll & Graf Publishers $23.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-7867-0658-7
Paperback - 273 pages - 978-0-340-63785-2
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Though Cartwright's (The Face I Meet) story of a British man's return to the America of his high school years won England's Whitbread Award in 1998, it is likely to read less well on this side of the Atlantic, with its intermittently patronizing depiction of middle America. Dan Silas, a London-based former advertising executive whose professional and personal life is in disarray, returns to Hollybush, Mich., for his 30th high school reunion. He reunites with his old girlfriend Gloria, who informs him not only that is he is the father of her daughter, but that the daughter has been killed by a serial killer. He discovers as well that his beloved friend Gary, unbalanced since a breakdown during his freshman year at Harvard, believes himself to be Pale Eagle, a 19th-century follower of Tecumseh. Eager to connect with his old circle and to be moved by the generous, large-scale emotions that he feels are quintessentially American, Silas agrees to visit Gloria's daughter's killer in prison, and he also steals valuable Native American artifacts from a London museum for Gary. But Silas's unhesitating commitment to his classmates sits uneasily with his sense that he is ""in the middle of nature with amiable morons."" Gloria, whose ""breasts have welded into a bosom"" works at the biggest Christmas store in the country, populated by ""frolicsome... very fat people""; Duane, another old acquaintance, has a ""potato-dumpling look."" Silas's obsession with aging, neglected bodies can be construed as an attempt at pathos; but since he never subjects himself to similar scrutiny, they seem to bespeak an author's contempt for the overfed flipside of American generosity rather than a damaged expatriate's uneasy reunion with people he once deeply loved. (Oct.)
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