cover image My Secret History

My Secret History

Paul Theroux. Putnam Publishing Group, $21.95 (511pp) ISBN 978-0-399-13424-1

With a title that brings to mind the memoirs of a great spy or double agent, Theroux ( The Mosquito Coast ; Riding the Iron Rooster ) reveals the secret life and divided loyalties that make up a writer's world. The result is a witty and wise portrait of a writer as he travels the globe searching for self-understanding. Even if his goal proves to be elusive, his journey is adventurous and the cast of characters first-rate. Andrew Parent is a man of secrets, never letting anyone get near his deepest thoughts. As an altar boy in a Boston suburb in the 1950s, Andrew's secrets are sexual and religious: his passion for half-Jewish Tina Spector and his friendship with alcoholic Father Furty cause a scandal. While the priests would like to suppress Andrew's budding sexual appetite, the rituals of the Catholic church are a spur to his imagination. Women are his greatest stimuli to FUNNY! write, but his romantic involvements occasion more problems than pleasure. His escapades during college with a rich married woman and a pretty student disillusion him about love, and convince him to hide his emotions completely. While in Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer, he indulges in a marathon sexual spree. Finally, he marries an Englishwoman who gives him the security to begin to write seriously, but nothing can cure his restlessness, his need for solitude, his jealousy and narcissism. It is only at the end of the novel that, by now middle-aged and a famous writer, Andrew learns to integrate his imaginative life with his married life. In his exploration of the ambiguities of love and art, Theroux has created a character so humorous and vital that we forgive his flaws. Paperback rights to Fawcett; BOMC and QPBC featured selections. (June)