Leslie Epstein Kirkus Reviews - Essay

Kirkus Reviews

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

As critics have often noted, Epstein's fiction—especially P. D. Kimerakov … bears a large resemblance to Saul Bellow's. And this disappointing new novel [Regina] is the most Bellovian of all: a sociological/spiritual mosaic that could conceivably be subtitled Mrs. Sammler's Revival. Regina Glassman is a divorced, 40-ish movie-and-drama critic, in her youth an actress. On leave from her New York writing job at a magazine, she's unexpectedly called back to the stage: a revival of The Sea Gull, the play in which she'd had her tyro triumph. Blindly, vainly, she believes that she's been again tapped for the part of young Nina, only to arrive at rehearsal to find out that she's been cast, quite reasonably, as old Arkadina. And this initial scene of embarrassment is the novel's best, most affecting section, a play upon the shame of illusion. Thereafter, however, the book slips precipitously. Manhattan is experiencing a hellish, perhaps apocalyptic summer: drought, a rampaging rapist, little Hoovervilles along the Hudson that Regina can see from the West Side window; furthermore, Regina's son Ben seems to be undergoing a Karamazovian crisis of saintly transfiguration; ex-husband Davy is pressuring to be allowed to return; and, oddest of all, Regina finds herself repeatedly visiting the psychic surgery sessions of a Puerto Rican faith-healer and putting all her desperate spiritual chips on him. The mix, then—wacky spiritualism, art, social-fabric disintegration, pathetic family tableaux—is one we know from Bellow. The social-commentary style, too, is familiar…. But while Bellow's social/personal interplay is riveting at its best (Sammler) and thornily intense even at its weakest (The Dean's December), Epstein's attempt seems second-hand and mechanical. And the result is a loosely-strung-together, ultimately unconvincing novel—from a writer with the talent (of King of the Jews) to be exploring more original territory than this. (pp. 1009-10)

A review of "Regina," in Kirkus Reviews (copyright © 1982 The Kirkus Service, Inc.), Vol. L, No. 17, September 1, 1982, pp. 1009-10.