Roger Kahn Kirkus Reviews - Essay

Kirkus Reviews

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Kahn's sentimentality works well enough in his boys-of-summer-ish nonfiction—but here, in his whiny first novel [But Not to Keep], it glops over everything uncontrollably. David Priest (in Hebrew, Priest = Kahn) is a journalist and ghost writer with a bad case of the itchies; first annoyance to be got rid of is his wife Joyce, gone to fat and martinis. He remarries—to years-younger Caroline—only to find that 14-year-old son Joel is now agonized into choosing which parent he cares to live with. A messy, rending custody case is the upshot. As such, the book could have been palatable…. [But] Kahn, embarrassingly, interrupts his narrative early to announce: "Aside from genius and politics, talent and venality, you always rooted for the artist over the reviewer, provided only that the artist did his honest best. Bardic best. Symphonic best. Bad best. Best, any best, deserved decency. It was frightening to stand naked out there, naked and vulnerable and stained by hope." Kahn stuffs the novel with this kind of anxious, self-dramatizing filler; there's so much of it that the reader turns perverse, starts rooting for the slings and arrows that hail down upon the hero. The last 40 pages work—the custody fight—but the rest is self-indulgent and strictly "bad best."

A review of "But Not to Keep," in Kirkus Reviews, Vol. XLVII, No. 6, March 15, 1979, p. 346.