The Case of the Pederast's Wife

Blossom Elfman, Author, Clare Elfman, Joint Author
Blossom Elfman, Author, Clare Elfman, Joint Author Dufour Editions $14.95 (200p) ISBN 978-0-8023-1332-4
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With skill and finesse, Elfman speculates on the strange marriage of Oscar and Constance Wilde, yielding a tale whose graceful prose and sympathetic characters compensate for some lackluster pacing. Young doctor Martin Frame pursues Constance as the model patient on whom to demonstrate his revolutionary theory about ""hidden anguish and visible pain."" In hoping to make a name for himself, he feels he can also distance himself from the misogynous attitudes of his physician father. Though it strains credulity, the long-suffering Constance quickly allows Martin access to her personal life, but it is difficult for him to convince her that her significant physical discomfort, a ""creeping paralysis,"" derives from psychological distress. Constance stands by her playwright husband during his trial for alleged sexual relations with boys, even after the guilty verdict irrevocably ruins the Wilde name and forces her and their sons to flee to Paris and adopt a new surname. Martin is dismayed by Constance's firm belief that Oscar is the victim of a conspiracy in which disgruntled actors are paid to enact ""renters""--or young male prostitutes--to declare that Oscar made use of their services. Inspired by his literary hero, Sherlock Holmes, Martin composes a paper for publication: ""The Case of the Pederast's Wife."" Like Constance, who feels that only she can save Oscar from himself, Martin increasingly believes he is the only one who can save Constance from her own demons. Whether he comes to care for her as a person or merely values her as a guinea pig adds to the intrigue. Martin's increasing lack of objectivity leads to dire consequences for all involved. Elfman (The Strawberry Fields of Heaven) uses fine period detail to create a Victorian setting in which her characters' wickedly clever dialogue rings true. But her manipulation of historical facts in the last part of the novel weakens the theme of loss, denial and self-induced misery. (Feb.)
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