I saw Alison Lurie’s 2005 novel Truth and Consequences at a bookstore today, and thought it deserved a blog entry. It’s the story of an academic couple at a fictional university (a thinly disguised Cornell), whose marriage is tested by the husband’s back injury and the dual temptations of a visiting poet and her husband.
From The New Yorker:
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.
[OK, once again, I had to look up a word in New Yorker review, which just irritates me. “Vatic” means “characteristic of a prophet.”]
The New York Times (subscription may be required) is less charitable:
By cutting back and forth between Jane and Alan’s point of view, Ms. Lurie does a sympathetic job of conveying each one’s perspective, while propelling her story forward with questions about the fate of the couple’s marriage. She fails, however, to flesh out the Mackenzies’ world the way she fleshed out the Tates’ world – with a compelling supporting cast. Delia and Henry are little more than plot devices used to make the Mackenzies face up to their problems, and the Corinth professors and administrators who appear in the novel are nothing more than stick figures with lazy walk-on parts. What’s more, Ms. Lurie pays little attention to the social matrix in which the Mackenzies live: there is no visceral sense of campus politics or university life, no sense of the times in which they live. And because there is such little ballast to her portraits of Jane and Alan, they emerge as real people curiously stuck in a fairy-tale landscape – flesh-and-blood characters oddly marooned in one of Delia’s brittle little tales.
The Washington Post calls the book “amiable, quietly witty and readable — Lurie is always readable — but it hasn’t much crackle or pop. Its four main characters are neither as interesting nor as sympathetic as Lurie obviously fancies them to be, so one reads the novel with clinical detachment rather than deep engagement.”
In researching this blog, I discovered that Alison Lurie is pretty prolific, and won a Pulitzer in 1985 for her book Foreign Affairs, about the intersection of the lives of two middle-aged American academics in London.
Have any EDIWTB readers read anything by Alison Lurie?