Vincent Canby BENJAMIN DeMOTT - Essay

BENJAMIN DeMOTT

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Can a chilly, misanthropic, half-crippled, middle-aged, twice-divorced, multimillionaire WASP whose hobby is researching the Albigensian heresies find happiness with a radical Jewish journalist who's 20 years younger than he, depressed by his money and resolved "never, never [to] marry a goy?"

Yes and no is the answer delivered in ["Unnatural Scenery"]…. Marshall Lewis Henderson, the WASP multimillionaire, and Jackie Gold, the Jewish journalist, commence living together at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas…. Their lovemaking is animated (Henderson is half-crippled, repeat) as is their talk, and over a period of nine years the culture gap narrows a bit….

Finding happiness is one thing, though, and preserving it is another. Miss Gold shows up late for dinner one night, and objects when Marshall Henderson punishes her tardiness by pummeling her with lobster salad. She turns to an Esquire editor for comfort and, soon thereafter, splits for good.

Such personal disasters are an old story for the hero, a loser, despite his money, almost from birth…. Adding things up after the Jackie defeat, Henderson decides that "something has to be done, a gesture made." And the book culminates in his search for an ideal late-20th-century American gesture of protest against things as they are.

"Unnatural Scenery" is shrewdly paced, nimbly written and full of ingenious cross-cutting, fast...

(The entire section is 420 words.)