Carlo Reinhart is one of the most likable characters in American fiction, a naïve, idealistic, lovable loser. Because Thomas Berger is perhaps the least sentimental of major American novelists, Reinhart is never too good, is always completely believable as a middle-aged, Middle American failure who sees almost everything about his past as superior to almost everything in his present. Although Reinhart may find traditional values in places where they may occur only superficially, such as in 1940’s war movies, he is far from being a rigid traditionalist. When his beloved daughter Winona is discovered to be a lesbian, Reinhart is not taken aback, although “abnormal” sex has always been repugnant to him. Reinhart realizes he lives in a changing world, and Reinhart’s Women, the fourth Reinhart novel, shows how he is unable and, eventually, unwilling to insulate himself from this world.
Berger first presented Reinhart in Crazy in Berlin (1958) as a naïve young soldier dealing with black marketeers and spies in occupied Berlin. (Throughout Reinhart’s Women, he refers to his army days as the happiest of his life.) In Reinhart in Love (1962), he settles down in postwar America to marry and start a family, only to become the innocent accomplice in the real-estate swindles of his employer. Reinhart has failed as businessman, husband, and father in Vital Parts (1970) and also fails to fit in with the rebellious spirit of the 1960’s.
Vital Parts ends with Reinhart’s fat, complacent teenage daughter saving him from death with her uncritical love. Reinhart’s Women opens a decade later with the new slender Winona a beautiful model and the sole support of her fifty-four-year-old father, who has given up trying to succeed in business to keep house for her. Reinhart’s only interests are Winona’s happiness and his cooking; he has become a self-taught gourmet chef. He is completely happy with this arrangement and expects it to continue until Winona, twenty-five, finally marries. The change comes more suddenly and in an entirely different form than he has expected when Grace Greenwood, the fortyish business executive he has met in a supermarket, whom he is beginning to look upon as his first girl friend in the ten years since his divorce, turns out to be his daughter’s lover.
In Vital Parts, Blaine Reinhart was a long-haired revolutionary. Now, he has gone to the other extreme: “his son condemned nothing done for a financial advantage, nor did Blaine recognize as serious any motive that did not have monetary gains as its goal.” He and his father cannot communicate regardless of the roles they are playing. Blaine is afraid that Carlo will become his burden or go on welfare now that Winona is going to live with Grace, and he tries to unload him on Paradise Farm, a religious commune in which he has invested. The commune is presided over by Raymond Mainwaring, the son of Reinhart’s late friend Splendor Mainwaring. Raymond was Captain Storm, a black militant, in Vital Parts but now calls himself Brother Valentine. Reinhart does not intend to become a burden to Blaine or anyone else, since Grace Greenwood has offered him a job demonstrating her company’s gourmet foods in supermarkets.
Reinhart’s new career is just starting...
(The entire section is 1372 words.)