Magazine article The New Yorker

Briefly Noted

Magazine article The New Yorker

Briefly Noted

Article excerpt

Thinks . . . , by David Lodge (Viking; $24.95). There is something comforting about any Lodge novel: although the characters sometimes behave despicably, they remain under careful supervision, and the pages take on a sort of witty murmur. At a grim and insular provincial university, Ralph, a married scientist who runs an artificial-intelligence program, is drawn to the newly arrived Helen, a novelist and a recent widow. In Lodgian fashion, adultery quickly becomes their chief preoccupation, as the narrative unfolds in shifting points of view (Ralph dictating into a tape recorder, Helen adding to a diary), with occasional third-person authorial assistance. It is Lodge's gift to make one care about the outcome, even if, this time around, the characters are not much to care about.

The Love-Artist, by Jane Alison (Farrar, Straus & Giroux; $23). Part thriller, part fantasy, this richly imagined first novel offers an answer to an antique conundrum: why was Ovid banished from Rome to languish on the western edge of the Black Sea, and how is it that only fragments of his "Medea" survive? The disastrous love affair that Alison invents between Ovid and Xenia, an almost feral witch whom he first spies rising like Galatea from the waves, has the power of poetic truth, and the novel's depiction of the circumscribed lives of women in ancient Romefrom old Persilla, Ovid's housekeeper, to Julia, the maddened granddaughter of the Emperor Augustusis especially fine.

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio, by Terry Ryan (Simon & Schuster; $24). The author's mother, Evelyn Ryan, was a small-town Ohio housewife in the nineteen-fifties who lived on the brink of dire poverty, thanks to a brood of ten kids and an ineffectual drunk of a husband. Since Evelyn couldn't work outside her home, she worked inside it, penning hundreds of product jingles and entering them in the national contests that drove the advertising industry of the day. …

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