ENGLISH AUTHOR David Lodge knows how to draw up a tight dramatic package, and in this novella, originally a play, the ironies and epiphanies unfold in a manner that's as satisfying as it is crafty. His setup is rather reminiscent of Martin Amis' The Information: Adrian and Sam are friends, rivals, and fellow novelists. One author, Sam, is successful and corrupt, reveling in and feeding off crass American culture, while the other, Adrian, is a high-minded literrateur pretending that he has no need for popular acclaim. Adrian's wife Eleanor once dated them both.
by David Lodge (Penguin, $11.95)
Into their lives comes Fanny Tarrant, a charming, cagey young journalist renowned for her witheringly cruel profiles of the rich and famous. Her latest victim is Sam, whose vanity (and toupee) she has ruthlessly laid bare, and to exact revenge, Sam impels Adrian to sit for an interview as well in order to perhaps uncover something damning about Fanny. The confrontations that follow point up the uneasy morality surrounding "home truths" ("a wounding mention of a person's weakness," says the OED) and the conflicting desires to both conceal and unburden ourselves of our deepest pain.
While Lodge has added "additional material" to his play that's not hard to spot (is it perhaps the one scene that takes place outside the drawing room?), the extraneousness of it prompts one to wonder why he bothered to convert this into a novella at all. The nondialogue additions are mostly just terse descriptions of movements, pauses, and facial expressions, like stage directions put into prose. Perhaps the desire to restore cut lines is the writer's not-so-secret weakness.