This flat novel of music, ambition and love is unfortunately not the enticing work-in-progress by the fictional "David Leavitt" in the far more accomplished and entertaining novella "The Term Paper Artist" (from the collection Arkansas). Eighteen-year-old Paul Porterfield hopes for a career as a classical pianist and is thrilled to achieve his "debut" turning pages for his idol, the vaguely van Cliburn-esque Richard Kennington. This would be the only intersection of their careers were it not for a coincidental encounter later that summer in Rome, where Paul and his philistine mother, Pamela, are on vacation. Mutually infatuated, Paul and Kennington carry on an affair unbeknownst to Pamela (who develops her own crush on Kennington). Kennington abruptly leaves because of an emotional crisis at home in New York (the beloved dachshund of his longtime manager and lover dies), but the summer fling spoils in Manhattan, as Paul (now at Julliard) faces his lack of talent and Kennington cracks under the middle-aged pressures of being a former child prodigy. Neither character's sketchy story, however, has much emotional weight. Only Pamela, one of Leavitt's characteristically strong maternal figures, transcends her stereotype. Her farcically frustrated ambitions barely keep up the tempo in this dubiously titled orchestration of tired themes. Author tour. (Apr.) FYI: Arkansas will be reissued simultaneously in Mariner paperback.
Leavitt, in his first novel since the controversial While England Sleeps (Houghton, 1995), proves once again that he can accomplish much through his clean, spare narrative style. A master at creating the internal dither we experience when we misunderstand our surroundings, Leavitt relies on irony to explore the world of mismatched characters as they attempt to create, but mostly ruin, relationships. Paul Porterfield is the title character, an 18-year-old would-be pianist who is called upon to turn pages for his musical idol, the fortysomething Richard Kennington. They fall in love a few months later. Add to this mix Paul's mother, who also falls for Kennington, and Kennington's much older male lover of more than 20 years. Mistrust, abandonment, and betrayal abound, and each character knows all too well what those things are. But the hope for love is plentiful, and that is the substance of the novel. With each turn of the page, we uncover the mystery of love in the characters' lives as they experience it. Highly recommended for all fiction collections.‘Roger W. Durbin, Univ. of Akron Libs., Ohio