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Picks and Pans Review: Summit

updated 02/22/1988 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/22/1988 01:00AM

by D.M. Thomas

In an author's note, Thomas describes this peculiar novel as "a farcical or satirical coda" to his books Ararat, Swallow and Sphinx. What it mostly resembles, in fact, is a long, rambling, coarse and way-below-par Art Buchwald column. It is about a summit meeting between an American President, the absentminded former actor Vince "Tiger" O'Reilly, and a newly installed Soviet leader, Alexei Grobichov. The story revolves around a confusion over the term "IUD." O'Reilly thinks he is offering to sell the Soviets a load of intrauterine contraceptives to help boost trade and as a humanitarian gesture, while his aides think he is using the letters to stand for Independent Unilateral Defence, a variation on President Reagan's Star Wars notions. (O'Reilly gets his laser defense program started accidentally, by describing a video game he thinks would be fun.) The premise might have been workable, but Thomas loads his plot with turns that are more often silly than clever. Grobichov, for instance, makes a clumsy pass at O'Reilly's wife, Wanda, even though he comes to the summit accompanied by a gorgeous blond (who turns out to be a daughter with whom he's having an incestuous relationship). Grobichov also uses the daughter to seduce O'Reilly into revealing the name of an American spy. At the end O'Reilly offers to give California to the Soviet Union, but the offer is turned down. Most of this seems a lot more like farce than satire—what real behavior is being lampooned here?—and Thomas' language often seems pointlessly vulgar: "Was she as intelligent as she was lovely, or were her brains in her tits?" Thomas muses about Grobichov's daughter. Readers are most likely to end up identifying with the character in the book who, having read Thomas' Swallow, is described as "not liking what she read," and who "closed the book with relief." (Viking, $15.95)

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