cover image Loving Women

Loving Women

Pete Hamill. Random House (NY), $19.95 (414pp) ISBN 978-0-394-57528-5

Although it covers well-worn ground--a 17-year-old sailor's passage to manhood in the 1950s--veteran journalist Hamill's latest novel is told with such emotional urgency and pictorial vividness that it has the flavor of a well-liked old story rediscovered (in fact, it shares a good deal of atmosphere and incident with Neil Simon's Biloxi Blues ). Brooklyn-born Irish Catholic Michael Devlin (who narrates from middle age, heading toward his third divorce) arrives at his Navy base in Pensacola, Fla., with ambitions to become a cartoonist, lose his virginity and solve some of the mysteries of adult life. Lessons are imparted by a brutish master-at-arms, an ineffably hip black musician, and a cynical, smart fellow sailor who is a closet homosexual. Most important in his life is Eden Santana, a kind, emotionally bruised older woman with whom Michael falls hopelessly in love. Although Hamill's characters all have a ring of familiarity, and he insists too firmly on giving every one of them a sad secret and a predictable confessional monologue, he invests real passion, narrative energy and fondly remembered detail in this novel, and it pays off. BOMC alternate. (Mar.)