Picks and Pans Review: Folly

updated 11/16/1992 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/16/1992 AT 01:00 AM EST

Susan Minot

After a best-selling novel, Monkeys, and a collection, Lust and Other Stories, that established her as a perceptive observer of contemporary relationships, Minot has set aside her minimalist voice to write a novel more in the style of the 19th century. In Folly the characters are lit not externally but as though from within.

Set in Boston between the wars, the book tells the story of Lilian Eliot, a proper young blueblood with a penchant—like most between-the-wars daughters of her class—for tea parties, trips to Europe and marriage to a proper Brahmin son. Luckily for the reader, Minot imbues Lilian with a quick if quiet wit, a disregard for high fashion and low gossip and a sense that the heart, no matter how steeped in contrivance and convention, has a life of its own. She is torn between a mysterious, unconventional man she craves but mistrusts and the aloof but available gentleman she eventually weds, producing two daughters and an unsatisfactory marriage.

In Minot's deft bands. Lilian's dilemma is played out against myriad other tragedies and reversals endured by her wealthy circle. When her husband, Gilbert, is committed to a sanatorium for alcoholism and depression, Lilian wonders whether she too might be "catching Gilbert's state of mind."

Lilian is reminiscent of the female protagonists in Jane Austen or Edith Wharton: strong-willed and virtuous but soul-searching and not beyond being tempted away from her comfortable if conventional life. With Folly, Minot has pushed past the skillful miniaturism of her earlier work to wrestle at a more profound level with some of the eternal ambivalence that occupies the human heart. Her Lilian Eliot is a character whose conflicts and choices linger well beyond the book's close. (Houghton Mifflin, $19.95)

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