Picks and Pans Review: Beautiful Women; Ugly Scenes

updated 09/19/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/19/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by C.D.B. Bryan

Because the narrator is a filmmaker, parts of this novel are presented as scripts for a screenplay, but that isn't its only innovative touch. There is an intensity of feeling that seems to come from the words themselves, even beyond their surface meanings. The subject—couples trading spouses—is all too familiar; in this lineup the narrator's second wife has fallen in love with a neighbor, and the narrator finds himself falling in love with the neighbor's wife. Actually it is hard to imagine anyone taking seriously the man who tells this story, since he is such a shallow womanizer. All this realignment of affections takes place in the affluent university town of Princeton, N.J. As the story unfolds, the narrator's mother, brother and others close to him die, and when the two couples head toward divorce, it appears as if he may actually be changing. He reduces his womanizing, for instance. But this novel is about romantic illusions and how neither men nor women can deal with real life in the light of their expectations. Bryan is a careful, observant writer (he is the author of the nonfiction Friendly Fire), and his scenes are unusually fresh and free of clichés. Although the story deals with the loss of loved ones through death and through the wear and tear of daily living, the novel is surprisingly funny, too. There are moments when the book is so vivid it almost gives off sparks. (Doubleday, $16.95)

From Our Partners