A starred or boxed review indicates a book of outstanding quality. A review with a blue-tinted title indicates a book of exceptional importance that hasn't received a starred or boxed review.EVENINGS AT FIVEGail Godwin. Ballantine, $14.95 (114p) ISBN 0-345-46102-9
Celebrated novelist Godwin (Father Melancholy's Daughter) lost her companion of nearly 30 years, the composer Robert Starer, two years ago, and this book is a devoted, quirky, wry and surprisingly powerful fictionalization of aspects of their life together as working artists. It takes its text, as Godwin might like to say (her last novel was, after all, Evensong) from the cocktail hour the pair observed, well, religiously, at the end of their working day, exchanging their jokes, their thoughts, their sense of themselves and their friends and neighbors. It swiftly and seamlessly moves into husband Rudy's long illness, nobly borne, and wife Christina's profound sense of loss after his death, tempered frequently by flashes of hilarity and sweet sense. The book has an elusive tone, somber but never mawkish, with a delight in words and the ways people use and abuse them that is typical of this urbane author. For a book that can be read in an hour, it is remarkably dense, and can only whet the appetite for the new novel Godwin is said to be working on. The drawings that accompany the text, as illustrations of some of Rudy and Christina's household artifacts, are clean-lined but repetitious. (Apr.)
Forecast:This is an odd hybrid of a book, but it is likely to appeal to Godwin's large following, opening as it does a window on her private life; it could also be sold as a gift book.