The Permanent Press, $26.00 cloth,
A book person of note, when asked
how he could tell whether a manuscript
was any good, replied that he
opened it to the middle. “If it bleeds,” he
said, “it’s good.” In her first novel, A
Richer Dust, Amy Boaz used as her jumping-
off place D.H. Lawrence’s trek to
Taos, New Mexico. With Beat she again
makes a literary reference. Her conceit
—that the central characters are hip,
world-fatigued, lowdown, à la Kerouac
and company—doesn’t quite hold, but
so what? Beat bleeds.
An American mother and daughter
are together in Paris. They visit museums,
hang at cafés, check out places
familiar to the mother from her days as a
college student and, later, a young wife.
Seven-year-old Cathy is at times a handful,
but her mother can’t help being
proud of a daughter who asks
the waiter anything I tell her, as I coach
her on pronunciation; she is direct,
adorable with her brown boy’s-cut hair
and thin, assertive body, and when I miss
her for a while I know she’s made friends
with the establishment’s big dog or she’s
sitting at the bar shooting craps with the
skeletal, chain-smoking locals.
Then there are other times.
The man in the booth in front of us turns
around because we are making unseeingly
weeping noises; the waiter darts a
nervous glance in our direction. I pat my
daughter on the back and smile tearfully,
nodding at the seated man in front of us.
… He stares for a moment, then turns
It took me awhile to catch on, but
finally I got it: It isn’t the kid who is the
handful but the mom. From leafy
precincts outside New York City comes
the cry of her engineer husband Harry:
Why can’t she be happy with what she
has? The answer is that Frances has
fallen in love.
The object of her amour fou is a poet
by the name of Joseph Pasternak. He
swam into her life (crouched, rather—
he hovered near her feet in conversation
with her table mate while everyone else
was dancing) at the wedding in Denver
of an old college friend; when they were
introduced he “mention[ed] his name
several times as if unsure I [would]
remember it.” A few weeks later Frances
receives in the mail a copy of a book of
love poems Joseph—he teaches at an
institute in Boulder that sounds a whole
lot like Allen Ginsberg’s Naropa—has
translated from the Sanskrit. Joseph’s
longtime companion and mentor, the
startlingly named Arlene Manhunter,
owns the house where, after their
reunion at the Boulder Quality Inn a few
weeks after the arrival of the love poems,
Joseph brings Frances for breakfast.
(Arlene, conveniently, is away traveling.)
Joseph is long and lean. He never
fails to carry a corkscrew in his rucksack.
Such plot as there is, and Boaz
unscrolls it with suspense, caused me to
gasp more than once. The sound you
hear throughout, though, is the crumbling
of a marriage. Crazy love: On the
road or in the suburbs, you never know
where it will lead.
This review appeared in the November/December 2009 issue of
The Bloomsbury Review (Volume 29, Issue 5).
REVIEWER: Virginia Allen’s book
reviews and other pieces have appeared
in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago
magazine, and Publishers Weekly.