Picks and Pans Review: A Lives of the Poets

UPDATED 12/17/1984 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 12/17/1984 at 01:00 AM EST

by E.L. Doctorow

This book is slight at best and often seems like a series of sketches for a novel. But the collection (six stories and a 64-page novella) has its penetrating moments. The novella, Lives of the Poets, is devoted largely to what seem to be inside jokes about Doctorow's cronies in the New York literary set and their romantic dissolutions. The narrator, a 50-year-old writer, notes, "There is such radiance in us when we love—our gyro careens, wobbles, threatens to dump us right out of the universe. It seems to me not unusual that, in the wild blare of absolute ecstatic conviction of love for a woman, in your jumped vivacity, you could just as easily reach for the woman standing next to her." The most expressive of the stories is The Writer in the Family, about a high school boy forced to write letters under his just-deceased father's name, so his terminally ill grandmother won't have to know her son is dead. But that story overlaps with the novella, accentuating the fragmentary nature of this book. It's as if somebody decided that Doctorow, who hadn't published a book since 1980's Loon Lake, ought to get something—anything—out there quick. (Random House, $14.95)

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