cover image Banana Rose

Banana Rose

Natalie Goldberg. Bantam Books, $21.95 (373pp) ISBN 978-0-553-09527-2

That the art of writing has many facets, some slippery, is demonstrated by this first novel from writing guru Goldberg (Writing Down the Bones), which turns out to be a rambling, rather indulgent memoir of marriage and friendship in an age of post-hippie adjustment. ``I thought the hippie years would last forever,'' reflects Nell Schwartz from Brooklyn, aka ``Banana Rose,'' who's living in a Taos commune, painting the awesome New Mexico landscape, when a sexy red-haired musician known as ``Gauguin'' blows into Taos with his brass saxophone. Soon ardent lovers, Nell and Gauguin depart for life in cities (including New York and its Jewish deli delights). But passion cools with marriage, ridiculous in-laws and the prospect of daily reality in ``Minneapolis, for good.'' Gauguin turns unconvincingly bossy and square, annoyed by Nell's cafe art show, her carefree ``women's libber'' ways and her Jewishness, which she fiercely protects amid the alien Midwestern corn. For solace, Nell turns to Anna Gates, whose mountaintop funeral opens and closes the novel as a frame and comment on the Gauguin/Nell relationship. In life, Anna was willowy and fair, a writer of guileless little sketches and ``a six-foot-one-inch lesbian'' whom Nell had tenderly loved but slept with only once. Finally, Nell's painful losses spur her to redemptive literary activity. Sentence by sentence, Goldberg's writing is, not surprisingly, sensitive and quick, but her plot meanders like a sleepy bee, settling down now and then for a scene as sweet as nectar but too often simply buzzing around in the air. Major ad/promo; author tour. (Mar.)