Cynthia Propper Seton PETER LaSALLE - Essay

PETER LaSALLE

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[A Fine Romance] is a novel of manners in which much of the insight sparkles in delightfully intelligent conversation. All the characters discover a little more about themselves by the story's end, especially Dr. Winters and his wife. For the first time, they are seriously questioning the viability of a marriage that strikes others as ideal.

Though jacket copy should be the last source of a reviewer's information, a biographical note on the inside flap caught my attention: "Ms. Seton thinks of herself as a committed feminist who has, in this novel, lent two-thirds of her sympathy to the man." The statement does approximate the author's own stance, for this is very much a novel about women's rights—with mixed results. On the one hand, it is refreshing to have a novelist of such craft and intelligence face the feminist issue, which has produced a current boom in sloppily written, noisy fiction. (One need only think of Erica Jong's Fear of Flying and the truckload of imitations.) On the other hand, Seton's believable, quietly moving story lapses only when she forgets just how well she writes real dialogue and resorts to having her characters deliver stilted speeches. And these usually come from the likable Mrs. Winters on the subject of her rights as a woman. I have no argument with what Kitty Winters says; I simply object to the substitution of "message" for dialogue.

Seton's Italian setting, complete with archaeological sites and Mt. Etna for a climactic scene, suggests a carefully thought out symbolic pattern to echo the psychological metamorphoses going on. She also provides superb portraits of the Winters children, wide-eyed and lovably goofy, and, in the novelist aunt, offers intriguing thoughts on fiction writing in general. On the whole, a deft, handsome piece of work.

Peter LaSalle, in a review of "A Fine Romance," in America (reprinted with permission of America Press, Inc.; © 1976; all rights reserved), Vol. 134, No. 25, June 25, 1976, p. 571.