A Girl of Forty

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Suki, the forty-year-old girl of the title, is a beautiful, self-absorbed, and dangerously irresponsible divorcee. The zipless encounter that Isadora Wing found so elusive is for her a daily achievement. When Frank, a middle-aged journalism professor, falls in love with her, Suki sees his need for commitment as a neurotic hang-up. Their sexual relationship quickly cools, but Frank remains a sort of surrogate father to Suki’s teenage son, Peter. Although extremely bright, he pals around with moronic punk rockers and frequents sleazy San Francisco gay bars. Peter fancies himself his mother’s rival for Frank’s affection and tries to blackmail the professor into a homosexual relationship with a faked videotape documenting Frank’s sexual deviance. The police are called in and the whole sordid affair ends disastrously.

Gold’s forte has always been his brief character sketches of San Francisco eccentrics, and this novel gives him a fine opportunity to demonstrate his talent. One notable exception, however, is Gold’s narrator, Frank, who seems poorly defined. Although he boasts of having a degree in “Sixties Head and Sit-In Studies” from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Frank appears to be of World War II vintage; he cannot even remember if “Runaround Sue” was sung by The Four Tops or the Eberle Brothers (sic).

This novel has a thesis--namely, that the hassle-free California life-style can be morally irresponsible--and Gold seems to intend to show Frank slowly moving toward that conclusion. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that Frank ever embraced the lifestyle he ultimately rejects. Gold’s attempt to dramatize the ethical issue therefore falls flat.

The glitzy style and incessant humor of Gold’s earlier novels are conspicuously lacking in his latest, in keeping with its rather somber message. San Francisco is brought vividly to life, however, and long-time Gold fans will not be disappointed in that regard. All in all, this is an interesting if not wholly successful novel, and one that should generate a lot of discussion.