Picks and Pans Review: Intimate Enemies

updated 11/30/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/30/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Caryl Rivers

Jessie McGrath, the protagonist of Rivers' often surprisingly amateurish third novel, has an IQ of 150. She knows from an early age that she is going to have trouble in life and trouble with men. She also knows from an early age that she is destined for great things. Maybe she'll be a veterinarian. Maybe she'll be an astronaut (even though she throws up on the Ferris wheel). Maybe she'll be a saint—or maybe not: "She lost her faith freshman year, her virginity as a sophomore." What Jessie ends up as—in spite of an arrest record as an antiwar protester—is the provost of a small Boston college. There she meets Mark Claymore, the new head of ROTC, a Vietnam veteran and amputee who calls himself "Gimp." Surprise, the divorced-and-distrusting Jessie and the divorced-and-distrusting Mark get together. Surprise, their courtship is a troubled one. But the book's title is false billing. Although Jessie and Mark are representative of extreme pro-and antiwar positions, the couple's disagreements have all the resonance of summer stock drama. Indeed there is something warmed over and cliché-ridden about Rivers' entire enterprise, which intercuts the central romance with Mark's painful Vietnam flashbacks, the post-feminist yammerings of Jessie and her best friend, Andrea, and entries from Jessie's sometimes very funny grade-school and college diaries. (One journal musing from sophomore year makes note of an inept lover who "fumbled more than the Patriots on a Sunday afternoon.") Rivers' first two novels, Virgins and Girls Forever Brave & True, were generally well-received. The moments of sharp writing in Intimate Enemies, however, are too often overwhelmed by fatuities like "What was it about her, Jessie wondered, that made her crumble like a Toll House cookie whenever she got serious about a man?" and "She kept him coated like a fried chicken leg, in bitterness." Then there's "My marriage just sort of ran down, like a musical toy." So, after 256 pages, does a reader's patience. (Dutton, $17.95)

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