Picks and Pans Review: Goodbye Without Leaving
The characters in Laurie Colwin's novels and books of short stories—Shine On, Bright and Dangerous Object, Happy All the Time, The Lone Pilgrim, Family Happiness—have all gone to good schools, look good in expensive clothes, live nicely, have appealing children and lead interesting, satisfying lives. And they are all, as a rule, hopelessly confused when it comes to matters of the heart.
The events of Colwin's various fictions provide her characters with a long overdue education in romantic love and romantic love's limitations. Geraldine Coleshares, the heroine of this uncharacteristically unsatisfying novel, isn't just confused about love. She's confused about everything: marriage, motherhood, her place in society, and how to go to a dinner party "without losing her essential self."
What makes Goodbye Without Leaving such a sharp disappointment is how promisingly it starts off. Geraldine is a graduate student in English literature at the University of Chicago, an institution of higher learning chosen not for its rarefied atmosphere but for its proximity to rock, jazz and blues clubs. The fact is that Geraldine, a rock and roll addict, does not really want to write her projected doctoral thesis on Jane Austen or on anybody else. She does not want to leave school, dress like an adult and go into advertising. No calling is calling to Geraldine. Actually, this is not entirely true. What Geraldine does want to do is get on stage and dance. Chosen by rock singer Ruby Shakely and Ruby's fearsome, loathsome husband, Vernon, to be the one white girl in the trio of backup singers known as the Shakettes, Geraldine goes on the road and goes into transports. "On stage I fell a way I had never felt before. I was an eagle, an angel. My body was made of some pure liquid substance and would do whatever I asked it to. The big questions fell away.... It was not an out-of-body experience, it was an in-body experience."
Unfortunately for readers, Geraldine's time as a Shakette—the best and most energetic part of Goodbye Without Leaving—is brief. She then spends 200 tedious pages trying to find herself in marriage (to a charming and unaccountably patient lawyer-rock and roll addict), motherhood, work, adultery, religion and swimming. The search is not a very compelling one, maybe because Geraldine is not that diverting or sympathetic a heroine. (Boy, does she yammer!) It is as if Colwin, having created this character, couldn't figure out what to do with her. "Meanwhile," Geraldine muses at one point, "the days meandered and I meandered with them." So does this novel. (Poseidon, $18.95)
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