We know from Leslie Epstein's previous fiction—two novels and a collection of stories—that he has both a social conscience and masterly skills. We also know, especially from his last novel, "King of the Jews" …, that he has an imagination of catastrophe.
His new novel, "Regina," is set in New York City in the 1980's, where inner catastrophes confront their external counterparts. One counterpart is the weather. It's midsummer; there's a heat wave and a drought…. Somebody in the neighborhood (the Upper West Side) is killing women who, as it turns out, remind him of his mother. He stabs each of his victims exactly 27 times. Relations between the sexes and among parents and children are awry. "It was a place as wicked as Babylon."
Theaters, restaurants, other entertainments—anything that might draw people to the city—are shutting down. And it's at a time like this that the 44-year-old Regina Singer, née Glassman, once a famous actress, now a film and drama critic, has been asked to perform in a revival of "The Seagull," the vehicle of her first triumph some 20 years earlier….
The book abounds with correspondences, slight and substantial, which could easily have become excessively literary or Freudian or pat. They are not. For Mr. Epstein, nothing is neat; simple answers are a symptom of disease…. Mr. Epstein's dramatization of the relations between art and life, of the relations between how we are and how we see, of the ways in which we engulf and regurgitate each other, the ways in which we play parts that wind up playing us, is subtle and convincing. He illuminates these matters, and much of what he illuminates is their mysteriousness.
This kind of novel is risky, but Mr. Epstein's control is equal to his daring. He has even attempted to portray a character who is at once an intelligence, a body and a subconscious, all of which inform and are informed by an occupation, a family and a personal history that is simultaneously the history of our time. The minor characters are vivid; the blacks and Hispanics, the women and children in particular are drawn with imaginative sympathy. The white men tend to be wimps or schlemiels or worse.
In the last few chapters, set during and immediately after opening night, all of Mr. Epstein's motifs come together in a sequence of tremendous literary chords, hardly a false note among them.
George Stade, "Parallels Are Everywhere," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1982 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), November 21, 1982, p. 12.