Picks and Pans Review: Foreign Affairs
by Alison Lurie
Vinnie Miner, a 54-year-old English professor at an upstate New York university, collects children's rhymes. She has six months off to go to her beloved London for research. Fred Turner, an assistant professor at the same college, goes to London to work on a book about the 18th-century playwright John Gay. Vinnie, who has been to London many times, has a network of friends, including a beautiful actress. Turner is invited to a party Vinnie gives; he has just broken up with his wife back in the States, and he falls in love with the actress. Part of the success of this often comic novel is that the characters are all literate and see themselves in a particularly interesting fashion. They are self-aware, but they are also likable—that is Lurie's greatest accomplishment. Vinnie even falls in love herself, with a completely unsuitable retired sanitary engineer from Oklahoma. "In most novels it is taken for granted that people over 50 are as set in their ways as elderly apple trees," writes Lurie, a Cornell University English professor who is the author of six previous novels. "They cannot, even under the best of conditions, put out new growth or burst into lush and unexpected bloom." In this novel Vinnie is transformed by love from a mean-spirited old lady into someone who makes a difficult romantic gesture. Turner is changed from a prudish postadolescent into an appreciative husband. It is to Lurie's credit that she makes her characters undergo these transformations right before the reader's eyes. That is what a good novel is all about. (Random House, $15.95)
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