Magazine article The New Yorker

Briefly Noted

Magazine article The New Yorker

Briefly Noted

Article excerpt

Truth and Consequences, by Alison Lurie (Viking; $24.95). Like Lurie's "The War Between the Tates," this is a comedy of adultery with a comedy of academia thrown in. Alan, a professor of architectural history at a college that sounds like Cornell (where Lurie teaches), married Jane because she reminded him of a classical building--"order, harmony, and tradition"--but, when his life is yanked askew by a back injury, he can't stand her orderliness anymore. Enter a femme fatale, in the form of a visiting fellow--a poet, all Pre-Raphaelite hair and vatic utterance. The inevitable happens, and, thanks to Lurie's psychological acuity, so does much that wasn't inevitable. Jane leaves Alan, but she comes by every day, depositing a microwavable meal, to his fury and his relief. (Otherwise, what would he eat?) Alan is the most likable character, but, as in the best comedies, everyone gets justice, and no one escapes it.

The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion (Knopf; $23.95). In December, 2003, Didion's husband, the writer John Gregory Dunne, died of a heart attack, just after they had returned from the hospital where their only child, Quintana, was lying in a coma. This book is a memoir of Dunne's death, Quintana's illness, and Didion's efforts to make sense of a time when nothing made sense. "She's a pretty cool customer," one hospital worker says of her, and, certainly, coolness was always part of the addictive appeal of Didion's writing. The other part was the dark side of cool, the hyper-nervous awareness of the tendency of things to go bad. In 2004, Didion had her own disasters to deal with, and she did not, she feels, deal with them coolly, or even sanely. This book is about getting a grip and getting on; it's also a tribute to an extraordinary marriage.

Henry Adams and the Making of America, by Garry Wills (Houghton Mifflin; $30). …

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