Picks and Pans Review: Loving Women
by Pete Hamill
The protagonist of this tender, beautifully written novel is Michael Patrick Devlin. Devlin's semblance of a happy life" is about ready to crumble. A professional photographer, he's lost his touch for taking pictures, and his third wife has just left him to live with another man. He smokes more than he should, enough to draw stares from some of the health-conscious patrons in restaurants and coffee shops. He's getting older, too, and starting to feel the effects of that process on both his mind and body. He's a man whose personal happiness rests in the memories of another time, another era—in his case, the '50s. Michael Patrick Devlin thus decides to try confronting his future by flashing back to his past.
The discovery of an old blue notebook sets his mind in backward motion, to 1953 and the Pensacola, Fla., naval base where, as a young man, he was stationed. The war in Korea is about over, Dwight David Eisenhower is out of uniform and in the White House, Frankie Laine sings about lost love and everyone smokes unfiltered Chesterfields. Michael Devlin, in search of manhood and women, receives a number of painful lessons in the complicated ways of Southern bigotry, the loss of sexual innocence and the irresponsibility of love. He is forced to confront officers who abuse the power of their station and must come to friendly grips with a balanced assortment of redneck characters. All this, many miles removed from the streets of his native turf—Brooklyn.
Loving Women is the story of Devlin's passage from idealistic young sailor to bitter burnout, searching for answers to a troubled life. The feel of the '50s is evident in every page, as is the bloated passion the young Devlin feels when he first falls in love with a woman he knows he should best avoid. For Hamill, currently a columnist with the New York Post, this ninth book and seventh novel (Flesh and Blood is the best known) is far and away his best piece of writing in quite some time. It combines the lyrical prose of his columns and magazine articles with the anger he expressed throughout the early years of his career, most of it directed at the civil rights injustices he depicts in this novel. Devlin's journey through the back roads of his life finally brings him full circle to the present and offers the possibility of a new start, an opportunity to take advantage of earlier mistakes and move forward. He is no longer a boy and no longer an angry adult. He is simply a man, once again prepared to face the realities of daily life, living with the knowledge that the warmth of a memorable decade will always be within reach. (Random House, $18.95)
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