Picks and Pans Review: Expensive Habits

UPDATED 06/23/1986 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 06/23/1986 at 01:00 AM EDT

by Maureen Howard

Margaret Flood is a writer who has had some early success with autobiographical fiction. As this brilliant if cluttered novel opens, she has just been given a lucrative contract for a book about some left-wing personalities she knew in the 1950s. She has also been told by doctors that her heart condition is deteriorating and that she has only a few months to live. Flood takes to her bed. She recalls her early life and marriage to a medical student. They lived in New Haven. The other wives had babies. Flood worked in a library and wrote. She went South during the Civil Rights demonstrations and had an affair with another worker, but she became jealous when her husband had a fling with a nurse. Then he got a much better job on the West Coast and she refused to go along. After the success of her first novel, Flood wrote for movies and had an affair with a producer; she married an alcoholic weakling from a notable family. During all these flashbacks within flashbacks, Flood's heart is repaired, but there is a new tragedy. Howard, the author of four other acclaimed works of fiction, refuses to let go of any of her characters once they get into the book. One of Flood's editors is an adored genius; another is ready to exploit her grief. Her housekeeper, a presence to be reckoned with, haunts her life. This is a messy book, careening through time and emotions in a kind of breathless, event-choked prose that sometimes overwhelms. There is humor, but mostly Expensive Habits trembles with feminine anger at life's chaos. It is not a book to be read and easily forgotten. (Summit, $17.95)

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