We know the story: the sixties; college; the professor, Paul Ballard, and the student he becomes involved with, Elizabeth Sieverdsen; the brief flaring of their love, its near predictable failure. It was the sixties, after all, and too many mistook indulgence for love. And its sequel: to revisit, with the cold eye of experience and time, that youthful evanescence. Or, even worse, to come together again years later, marked by life, particularly divorce, and think that this time . . .
It is the story of Old Scores but not the one Nicholas Delbanco tells. Love is either more than we will ever understand or less than, much less than, we desire, but it is everything Paul and Elizabeth desire, all they need to understand, even if they do not know it at the time. Despite years apart, their love marks them forever, alters their lives. Delbanco gives us here an Abelard and Heloise for our time, and if his comparison, of necessity, at first diminishes, it also enlarges; Paul and Elizabeth are legitimate heirs. It is a characteristic modernist method to hold the present up against the past, and Delbanco has employed it frequently; in Small Rain, for example, a version of Tristan and Isolde, or The Martlet's Tale, an account of the prodigal son. Guy Davenport argues that modernism was determined by the discovery of the specific, and Delbanco's detail is always, Thomas Lask notes, "dense, Euclidean in its ability to focus on a particular point of time and space." Here and elsewhere, he keeps faith with the still uncompleted modernist project: his impulse utopian, standards absolute, measure the particular. We may characterize his writing at every point in this complex and difficult enterprise by its acute intelligence; by its compassion, particularly for the old; and, first and last, by its language, precise, exact. Old Scores is characteristic.
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|Publication:||The Review of Contemporary Fiction|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 1998|
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