Picks and Pans Review: The Boys of Winter

UPDATED 08/31/1987 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 08/31/1987 at 01:00 AM EDT

by Wilfrid Sheed

This broadly comic novel takes on such subjects as suicide, residents of Long Island's Hamptons and the book business. Jonathan Oglethorpe, a top editor at a prestigious New York publishing firm, has a year-round weekend house in the Hamptons. He says it's because so many of his important writers live there; they must be coddled. All winter the gang drinks at Jimmy's bar and talks about playing softball in the summer. Oglethorpe triumphantly signs up a book by Waldo Spinks, a writer who made his reputation with a single great war novel. Spinks's new book is about a group of writers in the Hamptons, and Oglethorpe is the thinly disguised villain. Meanwhile, Oglethorpe himself is secretly writing a novel about writers in the Hamptons, and a crazy Spinks is his villain. When summer comes, the imaginary softball games of winter become nightmares. Some players want obsessively to win, and those who can't play are kicked off the team. The climax comes at a game with a Hollywood film crew and ends in surprising violence. In real life, the late James Jones, the late Irwin Shaw, Kurt Vonnegut and many other literary types have lived in the Hamptons. New York gossips talk about the artists and media folks who frequent the resort area and play softball there. So Sheed, who lives on Long Island, and is the author of such novels as The Hack and Transatlantic Blues, has held up a fun-house mirror, shattered it and then put the pieces back together to create The Boys of Winter. (The title is a play on Roger Kahn's reminiscence, The Boys of Summer, about genuine athletes, the old Brooklyn Dodgers.) There are casual but solid observations about real writers—Whitman, Henry Miller and Thomas Wolfe are described as "the belch bunch"—and Sheed, a novelist-critic whose parents were publishers, knows such egomaniacs well. His witty, chatty style suits them perfectly. (Knopf, $16.95)

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