The Dangers of Nostalgia

Let’s Fall in Love

by Carol Hill
Random House, 268 pp., $5.95

The Sightseer

by Geoffrey Wolff
Random House, 272 pp., $6.95

Bijou

by David Madden
Crown, 500 pp., $8.95

The Wanderers

by Richard Price
Houghton Mifflin, 239 pp., $5.95

Carol Hill’s Let’s Fall in Love has such a bad title that one quickly feels driven to invent others. Like Let’s Get Away from It All. On page 3 we are in “Zurich: 1:22 P.M.,” on page 4 in “Leeds: 4:01 P.M.,” on page 6, “Rome: 4:17 P.M.,” and, still on page 6, “The Riviera: 6 P.M.” In Zurich a girl is running naked through the snow toward her papa; in Leeds two British agents look at the same girl in a newspaper; in Rome Anna denounces the tardiness of Plato with “Fuck Italy, first the Fascists and now a pimp who can’t tell time”; on the Riviera someone called “I” is asked by his friend Santiago as they look at a girl on the beach: “I’m going to rape her, do you care to watch?” Then, after the rape: ” ‘Did it strike you as prurient?’ Santiago asked as we drove along the highway, the night air fragrant with the smell of honeysuckle and the sea.”

Or maybe it should be called Let’s Pretend. Anna, in Rome at 4:17, says, as she is raped on the Riviera at six, “Remember, I must be in Milan by eight.” She is a courtesan who charges $10,000 a trick, and she is also a deep sea diver, a gymnast, an expert gambler, billiard player, and bank robber. She is also at the center of an uncertain number of international plots, all derived from New York Times news stories, printed verbatim here.

Simpler still, we can call it Let’s Do It: “waiting and moaning then, asking Lola to come back, come back and suck her while the vibrator was up her ass, and Lola would, suck and tongue, and bite, bite gently, and then hard until Anna breathing heavily called out for him, now, now, and Plato came in.”

But of course finding names soon becomes tiresome, though nowhere near as soon as the slight interest derived from having it all written by a woman, since one would otherwise have sworn it was vulgarized Pynchon. After such pleasures disappear, there’s not much to do except to wait until Martin Bormann shows up at the end. A dutiful reviewer must get there; others are more quickly released, and into saying: Let’s not and say we did.

Geoffrey Wolff’s The Sightseer has to be better than that, and it is, but it is one of those books that keep lurching from a little better to a lot worse than they should have been. If Hill’s muse is some derivative Pynchon, Wolff’s is Hawkes: Caleb Sharrow, sightseer, narrator, moviemaker, familiarly treating life only as the stuff of art; Caleb’s brother Noel, twin, antagonist, speaking in the name of reality, morality, religion. Wolff works hard and often quite well to keep their antagonism something loving, something other than dialectic, but sometimes he cannot resist, and then …

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