James R. Frakes
[David, the protagonist of "The Married Lovers," a "journal of high-fashion angst," wants] everybody to learn not to be frightened of each other. The sense of fear actually structures this disturbing novel. The sense of fear seems to be the cause of everything—the ecology movement, communes, drugs, marital distancing, Kent State, Bangladesh, and the screwed-up Paris peace talks. No mention of Watergate.
Not only do all the characters think and speak in epigrams, but they all make speeches at each other—in letters, phone conversations, doctor-patient colloquies, confessional narratives of stark horror. From these speeches emerges a list of things about which we know nothing: sex, marriage, suicide, "life," conception, children, women, existence, and why people do what they do….
The final near affirmation (off to Maine to fix the roof and walk along the beach and air the blankets!) is hard-earned and honestly tentative but sadly unpersuasive.
James R. Frakes, "Fiction: 'The Married Lovers'," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1973 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), September 16, 1973, p. 4.
Most novels which conceal a tract can be immediately sensed as dishonest, for they have little of the energising flow of discovery which marks the most authentic fiction—novels of ideas usually flatten out characterisation and schematise plot for the sake of the propagandising. Julius Horwitz's The Married Lovers is a rare and honourable exception: certainly as much essay as novel, it also reduces its characters to examples (and has almost no plot at all …), but the book solves the problem by meeting it head-on. Horwitz makes the brave choice of turning most of the novel over to monologue. The subject is the nature and survival of marriage; and his point is that marriage represents escape from fear…. The Married Lovers has a felt depth and solidity: though not really a successful novel, it is a successful and moving human statement.
Peter Straub, "Hot & Cold," in New Statesman (© 1974 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. 88, No. 2276, November 1, 1974, p. 627.∗
D. A. N. Jones
The title of this quiet, sad American novel [The Married Lovers] is bound to recall Coventry Patmore's poem, "The Married Lover". A comparison is not frivolous, since both writers are, in their generation, far superior to the average in their command of the English language. Like Patmore, Mr Horwitz seems eager to repudiate the notion that marriage is too dull and familiar a subject for imaginative writing; but Patmore's narrator, Felix, is made to exult in the everyday excitement of his situation, whereas Mr Horwitz's narrator—a middle-aged surgeon, called David—is appalled and driven to desperation by both the concept and the reality of marriage….
David is anxious to reason things out—the novel is stiff with argument and generalization—and his wife, Anne, is equally articulate and explicit. There is a third prominent character, a Miss Wharton, who offers David advice about marriage in much the same tone of voice. All three speak in the best sort of American English, a spare, graceful, aphoristic style, which is pleasing to read but makes the novel implausible—as if Socrates, Xanthippe and Diotima were all on one wavelength….
It is not until the last four brief chapters that the immediate cause of David's breakdown is revealed…. It seems a disappointingly simple explanation, after all the sociology and metaphysics. But it comes at the right place in the book, as if David had only just managed...
(The entire section is 450 words.)
["Natural Enemies"] is Julius Horwitz's seventh novel, and he has learned a few tricks along the way, but, as in an earlier book, "The W.A.S.P.," his shrill kvelling over the decline of urban civilization tends to discredit his story. Horwitz is always exaggerating some social catastrophe that is not really so bad as he claims. For instance, I would like to see the proof of [one character's] statement about the up-swing in mass murders of a family by the father. I cannot believe such events are accelerating to the point at which they constitute a trend. But Horwitz seems to need to validate his story of one man by sociologizing it into an exemplum of modern life.
In a way, Horwitz mitigates this problem by writing in the first person, which puts the sociological overkill in the mouth of his unhinged protagonist. The overall effect, nevertheless, of Horwitz's highly realistic diary technique is that of a case-study presented for our edification. The author must, we are eventually convinced, think that most men, or even larger numbers of them, live on the edge of parricide.
Unfortunately, this obsession deflects Horwitz's energies from fictional tasks he does well. He has a gift for portraying middle-aged resignation in long monologues…. I like [his] slightly wacko irony. If only there were more of it, instead of so much unconvincing psychosocial pathology.
Raymond Sokolov, "Three Novels: 'Pride of the Bimbos', 'Slammer', and 'Natural Enemies'," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1975 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), September 14, 1975, p. 41.∗
Considering that [Natural Enemies] is about the awfulness of a marriage, of middle age and of pretty much everything that is going on these days, it manages to be disconcertingly original. Its preoccupations are Western, but its artistry and compression go well with its implicit acceptance of the Buddhist belief that all evil resides in the individual's will to stay alive. Paul Steward, the successful owner and editor of a magazine called The Scientific Man, wakes up one morning and loads his gun. He plans to shoot his wife, his three children and himself at the end of the day. The novel is a lucid record, stylish and abbreviated, of the events of that day, his last one and representative of all his days. Packed between long train journeys to and from New York are conversations he has with strangers, with his messianic contributors, with five haranguing whores, with a deliciously compliant lady, with his best friends: a famous psychologist and a famous expert on catastrophe….
The novel works so well because the vision of the world provided by the hero's disintegration is always understandable as the product of his state of mind and the circumstances of his life….
It is easy to make the novel sound too big for its boots, but that is exactly what it is not. Crammed explosively into the tricky plot and teasing, innocent dialogue is a turbulent inner life. There is a temptation to look for strain in a novel so contrived and violent, but, strangely, it evades that criticism.
Jane Miller, "The American Disease," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1975; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3841, October 24, 1975, p. 1255.