(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Walter Selby, World War II hero, returns to postwar America to make a brilliant career as advisor/trouble shooter for the governor of Tennessee. Walter marries beautiful Nicole, who bears two children. Everyone thinks the Selbys a perfect family until tragedy strikes. Walter becomes so involved in politics he neglects his family. Nicole succumbs to the temptation of adultery. Walter catches her in flagrante delecto, murders her, and is sentenced to prison for ninety-nine years.

Here the novel switches abruptly to Frank Cartwright, Walter’s son who has assumed the surname of his adoptive parents. Frank’s inherited good looks and magnetic presence win him success as a stage actor and then a Hollywood star. He comes to hate acting, however, and turns down so many roles he is facing professional oblivion. An aging foreign actress offers him a last chance to regain stardom, but at the eleventh hour he rejects her contrived, meretricious film project.

After thirty years of invisibility, Walter is paroled. He is unable to understand the America that has changed so radically during his incarceration. Frank learns that the father he thought had died long ago is still alive but dying of cancer. He arrives at the hospital just as Walter is expiring. Father and son have only moments in which to recognize themselves in each other’s eyes.

Talented Jim Lewis writes evocative poetic prose fueled by strong emotions obviously based on personal experiences; but this particular narrative is so fragmented one might suspect he has spliced two unfinished novels together to make a full-length book.

Review Sources

Booklist 99, no. 21 (July 1, 2003): 1866.

Kirkus Reviews 71, no. 10 (May 15, 2003): 706.

Library Journal 128, no. 10 (June 1, 2003): 167.

The New York Times Book Review, August 3, 2003, p. 8.

Publishers Weekly 250, no. 26 (June 30, 2003): 56.

The Times Literary Supplement, August 22, 2003, p. 18.