Brad Leithauser (The Friends of Freeland) has been compared to John Updike in the past, but in his latest novel he seems to be getting his cues from a realist of an earlier generation, John O'Hara. The novel takes up a cute premise: Wesley Sultan's obituary, published in the Restoration, Mich., Oracle, is not entirely accurate. Wesley's son, Luke a former investment adviser in Manhattan, now on a quest to understand the father he never really knew corrects it, heading each chapter with a copy of the obituary and the marginal notes that he's accumulated. Wes; Wes's brother, Conrad; and Wes's sister, Adelle, grew up in a family fallen on hard times. When he was 17, Wes dropped out of high school and got a lifetime job with Great Bay Shipping. But his real vocation was seduction Wes was the quintessential lady's man. Sally, his first wife and Luke's mother, divorced him for his incorrigible faithlessness; she is now a relatively rich widow, inheriting around $900,000 from her second husband, a doctor named Gordon. As Luke shuttles between Sally, on vacation in France; Conrad, in retirement in Miami; and Adelle, he becomes as much a protagonist as Wes. But neither Luke nor Wes are infused with the kind of Dreiserian energy necessary to power this tale of middle American hopes and disappointments. Sally and Conrad are the live wires in the book: Conrad is fat and dying, and cantankerous as a goat; Sally is happier and wiser now that she is finally able to do just what she wants. Despite its charismatic supporting players, Leithauser's cleverly conceived novel lacks a strong protagonist, and ultimately caves in on its empty center. (Apr. 17) Forecast: Respected poet and novelist Leithauser is in a bit of a slump. The response to his last novel (The Friends of Freeland) and collection of poetry (The Odd Last Thing She Did) was lukewarm at best, and it seems unlikely this well-crafted but listless tale will change reviewers' or book purchasers' tunes.
Reviewed on: 04/01/2001 Release date: 04/01/2001 Genre: Fiction
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