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Love's Mansion.

Paul West's newest novel is ostensibly a memoir of his parents in novel form, but it boasts a postmodern dimension that adds to its appeal. The first paragraph sweetly introduces the heroine of the novel as a young girl, but the second paragraph introduces novelist Clive Moxon, her son, now struggling to give form to his memories of his parents. Throughout the novel Clive comments on his progress in writing this book, exulting at one moment for getting a scene right (he hopes), despairing at another because of the scarcity or unreliability of his materials. "The temptation was to give them a lovelier life than they had had," he confesses early on, "but the chore was to record their happiness, between body soil and intelligent anguish. He had to make a good job of this, or he would never be able to remember them without lethal guilt."

His parents "meet cute," as movie critics say, and enjoy a charmed life as childhood sweethearts until Harry runs off to enlist in World War I. Clive imagines his father's exploits in the war and his mother's activities back on the home front with what seems to be penetrating psychological insight and a firm grasp of period detail, though he never lets us forget that this is his re-creation, not a historically accurate account. The reader also has to remember that Clive Moxon is Paul West's re-creation as well, himself as a young boy, putting the entire novel on another metafictional level. The narrative part of the book carries his parents through the Great War into the hard times between the wars, all the way to their deaths. Clive's own childhood is also recounted, concentrating on the aesthetic development that would make possible, many years later, the very novel we're reading. The narrative has all the rewards of a good read, even though the task is proving more difficult than Clive had imagined: "a calculus where he had been eager to settle for arithmetic. " Clive triumphs at the end, however, making a very good job of it indeed. Whether read as a wonderful story of childhood sweethearts becoming a complex couple, as a portrait of the artist as a young man, or as a metafictional project, Love's Mansion is a goodly place to dwell.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Review of Contemporary Fiction
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Moore, Steven
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1993
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