Straight White Male

Gerald W. Haslam, Author University of Nevada Press $17 (288p) ISBN 978-0-87417-354-3
Known for chronicling the lives of working-class people in Central California, far from the palm trees and movie stars of Hollywood, Haslam (Condor Dreams) tells a poignant story of that ""in-between generation,"" middle-aged people responsible both to aging parents and growing children. Leroy and Yvonne Upton are a middle-class couple (he teaches at a small college, she sells real estate) who have risen above their hardscrabble beginnings as offspring of Okies who came to the Bakersfield area during the Depression. Their lives change dramatically when they take in Leroy's aging parents, one a stroke victim, the other suffering senile dementia. In spite of a happy 25-year marriage, Leroy still secretly resents his wife's premarital sexual relationships. Side plots involve childhood friends, and current ones, one couple happy and successful, another whose marriage is breaking up. Many scenes deal with the frustration and emotional fatigue of caretaking elderly parents. The Uptons are almost too nice to be believed: teenage children happily tend and baby-sit the grandparents in order to give their parents a break. The novel ends with a funeral, and with Leroy coming to terms with his wife's long-ago escapades and his suspicions that their oldest child may not be his. Haslam's feel for pithy vernacular dialogue (including Okie expressions) is manifestly satisfying, as is his clearly attuned depiction of the California landscape. Though the intensity of the early chapters is not maintained, the novel provides a nuanced, often humorous look at the myriad, intergenerational domestic paradoxes that contribute to the human condition. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 07/31/2000
Release date: 08/01/2000
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