Hero and His Creator Share Love for Wordplay

By Reviewed Colleen Kelly Warren | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), September 14, 1997 | Go to article overview

Hero and His Creator Share Love for Wordplay


Reviewed Colleen Kelly Warren, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


Old Scores

A novel by Nicholas Delbanco

272 pages, Warner, $24 NICHOLAS DELBANCO (perhaps best known for his Sherbrooke Trilogy) is a serious writer, a writer of ambitious scope, with more than a dozen books to his credit in the last three decades. Of his protagonist, philosophy professor Paul Ballard, we learn in the first chapter of "Old Scores": "He was a clever man. That much was obvious . . . Language was his strong suit, and had been all along." So, too, with Ballard's creator, whose propensity for wordplay and literary allusion often overshadows the plot. There are so many philosophical, biblical, mythic, poetic, linguistic detours that the story sometimes gets lost in the muddle. Set on a small college campus in Vermont, "Old Scores" opens in the turbulent rebelliousness of the late '60s. The author's descriptions of Ballard's colleagues and students are wry reflections of Delbanco's own tenure in academia during those years: "Hal Robinson wore love beads and an aviator's jacket and dark glasses even at night. He served as faculty advisor for the Committee on Special Events; he was sponsoring a Hash Bash and the first Annual Dress to Get Laid Dance. . . ." In 1969 Ballard looks up from his books long enough to notice that one of his students has more than philosophical enquiry in mind during t utorials. Elizabeth is rich, blond, beautiful and fashionably alienated. (Many years later she will complain that Ballard "couldn't be bothered with the difficult problem of taking me seriously." I confess I had the same problem.) They have an affair that ends when Paul is injured in a hit-and-run accident and steadfastly resists Beth's efforts to help him recover. After graduation Beth does not see Paul or reveal her pregnancy, until some 25 years later - when their daughter (adopted at birth) contacts Elizabeth. Ballard has remained solitary and celibate all these years. Elizabeth's marriage is dissolved, her children adults. She and Ballard take up their relationship, each from very different vantage points than they had when they were younger. Paul and Elizabeth (whose lives are revealed through narrative and unmailed letters) are far more credible as individuals than as a couple. …

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Hero and His Creator Share Love for Wordplay
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