cover image Running in Place: Scenes from the South of France

Running in Place: Scenes from the South of France

Nicholas Delbanco. Atlantic Monthly Press, $16.95 (231pp) ISBN 978-0-87113-320-5

Novelist Delbanco ( Sherbrookes ) offers a record of his sojourns in Provence in the past three decades, variously shared with a friend, a lover, his wife and, later, his wife and two daughters. Too scanty on evocative description to serve as a travelogue, and lacking a unifying organizational plan, the book suggests a diary directed to an indulgent friend. Dwelling in the land immortalized by the Impressionist painters, the author alludes to them frequently, and affects an impressionistic style in prose, but his bemused, wandering attention fails to strike fire from the idea. His eagerness to display the breadth of his cultural knowledge (including excessive French phrase-dropping) seems at odds with Delbanco's apparent modesty about the loss of momentum his life has suffered in middle age. The self-portrait is neither attractive, full, nor particularly convincing, and portraits of Delbanco's friends--with the exception of the late James Baldwin, revealed as richly human--are reduced in scale and scope by callow characterization. (July)