Larry Watson, Author Pocket Books $24.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-671-56774-3
Watson at his best (Montana 1948) captures smalltown life with searing acuity and vigorous heart, though other efforts (White Crosses) don't achieve the intensity or dramatic precision this writer is capable of. His sixth book is a portrait of one man's obsession with a woman he barely knows, and it pairs the author's signature sharp dialogue and gorgeous, piquant language with an unfortunate lapse in his characterizations. During the summer of 1955, 11-year-old Paul Finley awakens to find a beautiful but drunken woman standing in his bedroom. Laura Coe Pettit, a 22-year-old poet on the verge of tremendous success, who has come to Paul's summer home in Vermont for a party with the intention of seducing his father, winds up in Paul's room to gather her wits. The two share a brief conversation that captures the boy's heart. Over the next three decades, Paul has only a handful of encounters with Laura, but he is unable to exorcise her from his thoughts. Revealed from Paul's perspective as he grows older and wiser, the story demonstrates the protagonist's role in life as an observer. He focuses his sights on the volatile, hot-and-cold Laura with extraordinary persistence, much to the detriment of his other relationships. Though Watson takes advantage of the 30-year trajectory in his narrative to offer insight into Paul's psyche by way of historical markers (one of Paul's encounters with Laura is at a Vietnam War protest), the author fails to contextualize his protagonist within the surrounding events of the era. Watson's talents are evident in his mastery of language and plot, but he neglects the vibrant secondary characters for his overwrought evocation of Paul's single-minded passion. Eventually, the reader experiences Paul not as a person, but merely a vehicle for his obsession, and much of the novel's energy sinks under that weight. 12-city author tour. (June)
Reviewed on: 05/29/2000
Release date: 06/01/2000
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 352 pages - 978-0-671-56776-7
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