Somebody Else's Life

Morris H. Philipson, Author HarperCollins Publishers $16.95 (298p) ISBN 978-0-06-015668-8
Men who want to escape from their lives and assume new identities seem to be cropping up everywhere this season. Like Philip Roth's Zuckerman, Stephen Cooper suddenly finds his existence empty and purposeless. A 50-year-old professor of philosophy at Northwestern, he experiences an epiphany while viewing a Whistler painting in the Peacock Room of Washington's Freer Gallery, and thereafter concocts a con scheme that he hopes will restore his will to live and at the same time make him very rich. Cooper's mistress, Alice Chase, an expert in authenticating works of art, is the perfect ally in Stephen's plan to forge a copy of an antique leather wall hanging. Circumstances motivate Stephen to marry her, a union of convenience rather than passion, since he is incapable of true feeling. Alice is a shrewd and ingenious conspirator, a lot smarter than Stephen, and it is to her credit rather than his that they pull off the scam, using disguises that are in themselves transformations of personality. A bitterly ironic twist of fate spoils Stephen's triumph, however. Philipson's ( Secret Understandings dry, detached style makes the narrative slow going for nearly half its length, and although it does take on tension once the scam gets underway, the characters never acquire flesh-and-blood dimensions. While it has elements of a sedate thriller, the novel is really a psychological study concretized by interesting details of the art world and by the well-rendered Chicago background. (February 18)
Reviewed on: 01/01/1987
Release date: 01/01/1987
Paperback - 300 pages - 978-0-226-66750-8
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