cover image Folly CL

Folly CL

Susan Minot. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $19.95 (278pp) ISBN 978-0-395-60339-0

Minot earned high praise for her first novel, Monkeys . Here she again displays a brilliant gift for loading frugal prose with emotion and innuendo. Folly penetrates a staid upper-class scene in the WW I years, centering on pretty Lilian Eliot, well-behaved and square-chinned, ``a regular girl from Boston.'' Schooled in the numbing restraints of caste and gender, Lilian discovers her own romantic ardors and falls in love with an unreliable charmer, New Yorker Walter Vail. From overseas service Walter writes one offhand letter about the war's havoc, and stays on to marry a Frenchwoman. Lilian accepts the muffled role society prescribes for her; she marries big, slow-moving Gilbert Finch, whose endearing nature turns out to mask grave defects. Soon a mother of three, Lilian sees her life as ``airtight, all the seams sewn up,'' and endures the genteel descent down the years in a round of weddings, lunches, and shopping, a life sometimes illuminated by painful glimmers of self-knowledge as hope becomes a memory. Then one day Walter returns, unencumbered. The novel's cautionary characters who stray from the norm include Lilian's suicidal friend Irene, her parasitic brother Arthur--a writer--and her free-spirited old Aunt Tizzy, rouged and eccentric. Chapter headings--e.g., ``Some shocking news,'' or ``A guilt between them''--evoke the fictional style of the period; Minot's terse purity of voice achieves a canny, ironic distancing, yet manages seductively engages the reader in her heroine's quandary. Paperback rights to Pocket; BOMC and QPB alternates; author tour. (Oct.)