cover image Expensive Habits

Expensive Habits

Maureen Howard. Summit Books, $17.45 (298pp) ISBN 978-0-671-50625-4

Howard has not before written as complex, well-rounded and satisfying a novel as this one. It has her hallmarks: lean, supple prose, light-fingered irony, acerbic observation of our life and times. In addition, there are new strengths: fully fleshed out characters (including a Puerto Rican maid and a tough-talking exrock star), a perfect command of vernacular idiom, a sense of the mystic interlocking of disparate lives. Esteemed and wealthy author Margaret Flood, on the eve of a heart-bypass operation, decides to revise (and tell the truth about) the versions of her life she has transmogrified into her bestselling novels. She tells of her first husband, eminent heart surgeon Jack Flood; of her second, socialite, political activist, now alcoholic Pinkham Strong; of her precocious, loving son Bayard. The narrative moves smoothly, engrossing the reader in the details of Margaret's relationships, when suddenly and, we realize, with a raw reality that has been missing from Margaret's novelstragedy strikes. The effect is stunning; the book explodes with poignant meaning. Howard's insightful comments on the phony glamour of political activism and the universality of self-deception (how we all ""write'' the story of our lives) add depth to a significant novel. (May)