Picks and Pans Review: The Golden Gate

updated 07/21/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/21/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Vikram Seth

Since this exhilarating novel about love, whimsy, growth and death among yuppies in San Francisco is written in verse (iambic tetrameter sonnets), there is a temptation to promise timid readers that the rhymes are so natural you don't even notice them. Not so. The verse is as ebulliently noticeable as a delectable frosting on a superb cake, always in sync with the action, yet so witty in itself you sometimes laugh at the wordplay alone. As for the cake, it is a sweet, nutty, fruity number that owes as much to Cyra McFadden's The Serial as to its stated inspiration, Aleksandr Pushkin's Eugene Onegin. We meet John, a lonely defense-industry computer jock whose sculptress/punk drummer ex-girlfriend starts things rolling by placing a personals ad in his name. He meets Liz, a lovely lawyer, and Ed, her gay adman brother, owner of a large iguana and a self-lacerating Catholicism. They meet others. The author, 34, a Calcutta-born economist-poet who lives in San Francisco, has a fine time guiding his cast through such Bay Area delights as wine making, whale watching and antibomb rallying. He engineers several nonmarital couplings, tastefully described and endorsed to the extent that they involve real affection. But all is not fun and games. Seth employs the dramatist's keen sense of the contradictory outlooks and intentions of his characters; of how such contradictions can destroy happiness; or how, for reasons ascribable only to grace or God, they can mesh to create love and stability. Seth's ending will seem dark to those who like their young people straightened out and married off by the fifth-act finale. He provides a wedding, but also a death, and only faint hope of happiness for one major character. Perhaps the best proof of his talent is that the same tetrameter we found so merry early on now calls up tears. Seth may be more or less alone in his genre, but there's no doubt he is its master. (Random House, $17.95)

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