Picks and Pans Review: A Regular Guy

updated 12/02/1996 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/02/1996 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Mona Simpson

The "guy" referred to in Simpson's evanescent third novel is anything but your run-of-the-mill Joe, a point quickly made manifest: "He was a man too busy to flush toilets.... He didn't believe in deodorant and often professed that with a proper diet and the peppermint castile soap, you would neither perspire nor smell." Not that anyone would be likely to bring up his hygiene to "regular guy" Tom Owens, who before his 30th birthday had made millions as founder of the biotech firm Genesis. The novel is, however, more concerned with what Owens did before his 20th birthday: fathered a daughter, Jane, whose struggle for a place in his life is at the center of the story.

Since the book's publication, Simpson, whose work includes the splendid, harrowing Anywhere but Here, has been besieged with interview requests. This has more to do with the belief that she has fashioned a roman a clef about her half brother, Apple Computer founder Steve Jobs, than with the novel's literary merits. While A Regular Guy explores the same territory as Simpson's previous work—a child's search for self and family—there's an oddly passionless quality to the novel and a lack of specificity to the characters, notably Jane. Ultimately, A Regular Guy rates only the most dubious of compliments: eminently readable and quickly forgettable. (Knopf, $25)

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