Ron Loewinsohn - A thief who uses stealing only as ''a public reason'' for entering other people's houses and feeling there the thrill of their being

Ron Loewinsohn, Magnetic Fields (Knopf, 1983.; Dalkey Archive Press, 2002)

"Organized around the idea that "you can't know what a magnetic field is like unless you're inside of it," Ron Loewinsohn's first novel opens from the disturbing perspective of a burglar in the midst of a robbery and travels through the thoughts and experiences (both real and imaginary) of a group of characters whose lives are connected both coincidentally and intimately. All of the characters have a common desire to imagine and invent rather horrifying stories about the lives of people around them. As the novel develops, certain phrasings and images recur improbably, drawing the reader into a subtle linguistic game that calls into question the nature of authorship, the ways we inhabit and invade each other's lives, and the shape of fiction itself."

"Released by Knopf in 1983, this is the story of Albert, an apprentice burglar. But to Albert breaking and entering doesn't mean just into houses; he supports himself through thievery, but his real goal is to break and enter into his victim's lives. We've all got something to hide, and Albert thrills at rooting out those dirty little secrets that lie behind locked doors. The psychological aspects of being robbed are far creepier than the loss of physical items." - Library Journal

"Whoa, what a beautiful set of three interlinked stories. Loewinsohn does this thing where almost the exact same language is used to describe slightly different things (or slightly different approaches to the same things) in each of the three stories - one about a thief, another about a musician, and yet another about a literature professor. It's really pretty amazing, and I'm surprised I hadn't heard of this book earlier, it was so delightfully put together." - blueblanket

"Loewinsohn's poems (this is his first novel) have frequently been preoccupied with a sense of dimpling coziness, domestic interiors. And though he has tricked-up this trio of interlocking stories with fugal fictional techniques (e.g., repetition in different contexts), the point is a sentimental, simpleminded one familiar from the poetry: ""It was what everyone wanted and almost nobody did, to slip out of or through the structure that gave your life a shape into a room where your life took the shape you wanted it to have, to love and be loved by someone perfectly beautiful."" Thus, in the first section, a young burglar finds himself doing his dangerous work less for the loot than for the thrilling recognition that ""Other people live their life here, something that absolutely excluded him."" Then, as this first part ends and the second begins, the burglar is spotted leaving an incompletely robbed house - the house, it turns out, of David, a San Francisco composer of electronic music who is only days away from going East with his family for the summer: they will live there in a rented house belonging to a couple whose genius child was accidentally killed sometime before; these ghosts of other lives - left in someone else's house - provide a second structure, or house, around David's life. And finally, in the third section, Daniel, a friend of David's, conducts a philandering affair.... which, of course, exposes him, too, to duplicitous spaces, secret goings-on. There's occasional charm in this offbeat book's earnest oddness; Loewinsohn is good at loading on details of daily life at its most artificial. But he's a cardboard stylist for the most part (""Her skin, the skin of her face and down her neck, was incredible""). And the variations on the theme here - other-people's-houses as a symbol of everyone's innermost yearnings--can't disguise its mushy, dreamily simplistic nature. An engaging notion for a poem, perhaps, but awfully thin, obvious, and precious as a novel." - Kirkus Reviews

"ONLY a first novelist, one with five published volumes of poetry behind him, would be brash enough to tackle the kind of theme Ron Loewinsohn has taken on in Magnetic Field(s). His male characters are all investigating, in their separate ways, the texture of their lives, the structure of the things we call happiness, or belonging.
Of course, this is what all novels are about in a sense, but Mr. Loewinsohn is explicit about it. He interrogates being as if he were playing ontology on a piano.
He begins Magnetic Field(s) with Albert, a thief who uses stealing only as ''a public reason'' for entering other people's houses and feeling there the thrill of their being. Albert becomes more and more involved in the houses themselves, less and less in the stealing. He lights a cigarette and looks at television, uses the bathroom, pokes around searching for the occupants' secrets.
After Albert is arrested, Mr. Loewinsohn moves on to David, a composer who takes down Albert's license number as he is driving away from an aborted burglary of David's place. David is a composer who includes the environment in his ''music'': ''The imperfect fifth'' of a house ''cracking its joints'' as it settles, or the noises of the woods behind his property. Through art and technology, David rediscovers his environment, or the texture of his life. He rediscovers it on a conscious plane, appreciates it in a more complex, theoretical way, rather like Andy Warhol with his paintings of soup cans.
''Magnetic Field(s)'' is full of the sorts of correspondences, parallels or universals that are dear to poets. The various characters in the book repeat one another's gestures under slightly different circumstances, as if the author were trying to get at the human constants we all live by. When Daniel, a close friend of David's, begins having an affair with Connie, a former student, he invents an entire new life of squash games, night classes and fishing trips to explain his time with Connie to Annie, his wife. And this invented time gradually drains the reality out of his real time with Annie so that he can leave her. His cover stories make him feel like a criminal, like Albert, and this gives his affair with Connie an additional dimension of forbiddenness.
Daniel achieves what the philosopher Arthur C. Danto calls ''the transfiguration of the commonplace.'' But David wonders what it costs Daniel to do this. Where does he really ''have his being?'' David wonders. And we wonder too: Is Daniel just talking to himself in his affair with Connie, making love like a character in a novel he has ''written''? How can we tell what is real and what is art? David asks himself. And perhaps the answer is that we cannot, that life and art are inextricably tangled, and that most of us suffer from an overdose of one or the other.
Mr. Loewinsohn knows how to conjure, how to surprise the reader , which may be the best, or at least the rarest, of the novelist's talents. But he's still too much of a poet, too fond of modulations and musical structures. His book is too tense with too many meanings. As Wallace Stevens, another poet, put it, he is ''too conscious of too many things at once.'' The same is true of his characters: They think too much and do too little. They seem to have almost no ordinary existence.
Yet these are lovely flaws, excesses of the author's imagination, an overeagerness to give us something, everything. Reading Magnetic Field(s), one is reminded of a line from Paul Valery's ''Mister Head,'' whose protagonist says, ''I know my heart by heart.'' Though there is both pride and sadness in the line, Mr. Loewinsohn need not be sad. If his book is not altogether a success, it is only because he is too much in love with knowing, with consciousness, which is exactly as it should be in a first novel." - Anatole Broyard

"If you are interested in being what we used to call an inside man - i.e,. one who robs houses for a living - then you should commit to memory the first story in Magnetic Fields, entitled "Albert." For example: Don't be stealing things at night - neighbors will notice lights or anything amiss. Always wear a hat, to hide your hair and part of your face. Wear a jacket that has different colors inside and out so you can reverse it. Use "nothing-colored" pants and running shoes, because your may have to "break some track records."
Carry a screwdriver or a tire iron but not both, because if you are caught, the two of them together can be considered "tools" for burgling. Figure out two escape routes.
And, after you hit a house, do it again in two or three months. No one would guess that you'd repeat yourself, but that is when the insurance has replaced the TV and stereo, "and then you hit them again and you got brand-new stuff."
Albert learns all this from his friend Jerome, and he falls into it easily. He likes the hours, the money, and the thrill of it - especially being in someone's house when they don't know you are there, which adds to the joy of it because "they always feel violated." The house "had gone through a whole series of lives... and all those lives excluded him..." but once there, you became "a consciousness in the room or a consciousness of the room, part of the body of the house."
He would feel a panic then, an anxiety whose source he could never name except that it was connected with the house, with his being in the house, as if - unless he did something - he would dissolve, simply not be there anymore, like the smoke from a cigarette, or that he would faint. It scared him to feel things he could not understand like now this heavy feeling of loss. What was it he was grieving for?
I can't think of any other writing - outside of Genet's Thief's Journal or Jack Black's wonderful autobiography You Can't Win that puts one so profoundly into the passion that is thievery. Like Genet and Black, Albert loves the feeling that a good "job" gives him,
More and more now he found that after he had gotten his one valuable thing out of a house and into his car he wanted to go back in the house and simply stand there, feeling the house as a kind of ongoing zone around him.
An "on-going zone," one that never belonged to him, would never belong to him, but which made it possible for him to - for example - steal something of no value, "a spoon that said NEW JERSEY, a small plastic honey bottle in the shape of a bear, a half-size railroad spike that someone had had brass plated." Albert also enjoys a tiny, random act of vandalism - dumping an ashtray on the couch, or putting out his cigarette in a stick of butter on the breakfast table - reminding us of one of Genet's friends who, after cleaning out a house or an apartment, would defecate on the rug just behind the front door.
In "Albert," Loewinsohn has written an entrancing story, which, because of "magnetic fields" is tied to the next one. Albert has looted David's house, and David manages to get the license number on Albert's car, has him arrested. We get into David's world then, which is just as tricky, just as affecting: one of music and genius. Weird music and video, taking his tape recorder out in the fields, "Like Cage hearing the random traffic noise as part of the string quartet he was listening to."
But Loewinsohn being Loewinsohn, this is not just son et lumière. We find ourselves in a house, a "zone" as Albert would have it (it's one of the same houses visited by Albert) which has a room built by a (now deceased) twelve-year-old genius to make music. In the attic of the same house, we find an amazingly complex model railroad system which the boy built "because he knew it made his father feel good thinking he was contributing in this way to his son's happiness."
Rooms, space, the secrets of a house, what the people who live there give to it: these themes run throughout Magnetic Fields. In the final story we learn of David's friend Daniel. Daniel is cheating on his wife. He has fallen for Connie, "beautiful, a classic Swedish blonde." And all this, in a switch from the previous stories, doesn't come to us from an omniscient narrator but from the subject of the previous story, David. Like the author (perhaps he is the author) David puts himself in Daniel's head. These are his thoughts about Daniel's thoughts about Connie's room:
For a long moment he forgot the girl, so absorbed was he in feeling the distance between the top of his head and the wall on the other end of the room, behind the couch, feeling the volume these walls enclosed, the pictures Connie had hung on them, insisting that the apartment become part of her life, the wall she hung her pictures on. And yet the walls had been here long before she ever saw the space.
This one is as good as they come, once you get past the weirdness of it all or, better, once you begin to see the worth of the weirdness of it all. Themes pop up, disappear, and reappear, making you know that the author or the narrator is having a good time. And, at the same time, he is testing you. Or playing with you.
Daniel plays, too. He plays dressing games with his new love Connie. Sometimes they'll dress up as cowboys. Or she will put on the outfit of a very young girl. They'll meet at a bar; she will pretend not to know him; if he touches her, she scolds him. They get on a train, meet in a club car where he is to pick her up. They pass through a town, where Coming Home is playing at the local movie theater - and we remember the model train, built by our deceased young genius, which had a perfect model movie theater with just that same title.
Daniel sees a boy through the train's window "in the front yard of a large white house with many roofs slanting at odd angles, a young boy was shooting a bow and arrow..." and this is the house that we have already met in the previous story, "Kindertotenleider."
Connie is a model, does commercials on TV for tampons, and we also saw a tampon ad on one of the TVs that Albert stole in his story. It even extends to the description of the father of the boy genius (who died young - "Kindertotenleider being a song cycle by Gustav Mahler, "Songs on the Death of Children") who "would stroll down the aisles stacked from floor to ceiling with shelves of books, touching and randomly taking down books and reading their dedications and acknowledgments... To my wife, who typed these pages with such painstaking care ... who brought me cups of coffee all that dark autumn in Reykjavik...
We learn that Daniel had
written a story about a strange man who wandered through the stacks of a library, taking down books at random and reading only their dedication pages.
And to make the circle perfect, we look back at the beginning of this particular book Magnetic Fields and find a dedication reading, For Stephen, Will, and Joe, and for Kitty, who brought me cups of coffee all that dark autumn in Reykjavik." - Stephen LeClair

"When Magnetic Field(s) was first published in 1983, there really weren't many books out at the time to which it could be rightfully compared. What were the origins of this novel?
- The most immediate impulse for writing the book was the fact that I'd just been burglarized. This was maybe the fourth or fifth time this had happened to me, and all of the issues connected with being broken into, being invaded, were all very much on my mind. The cops who investigated the burglary also told me some remarkable anecdotes about burglars—some of Albert’s adventures derive from those anecdotes. Like David in the novel, I’d been burglarized just before leaving to go back east for part of the summer, which my family and I were planning on spending in a house much like the one David sublets. So the parallels between the burglar and me were already reverberating in my head: we were both invading someone else’s space or life. But of course this is exactly what the novelist has to do: get into someone else’s experience and live there, for some extended period: it takes weeks and weeks to write a novel.
How long did it take you to write Magnetic Field(s)?
- It was written in six weeks. I’d written a couple of novels already, even though I’d never taken the manuscripts out of the box once they were finished. They had both been chores, very laboriously produced, while Magnetic Field(s) felt absolutely like a gift. By the last weeks I was writing 3,000 words a day, and probably about as happy as I had ever been in my life.
Do you find that writing poetry and prose tends to be a positive experience for you in general?
- I talk to a lot of writers and read accounts of writing that make it sound as if writing a novel were like going through some incredibly painful rite of initiation, something that would be found in The Magic Flute, the tortures of the damned and all that, just to get out a couple of brief paragraphs. It’s never been like that for me. Writing has always been fun, and I was gratified to read that Richard Wright, in talking about the process of writing Native Son, which I teach on a regular basis, refers to the "deep fun" of writing. The deep fun of writing a poem is just as real as the deep fun of writing a novel. It’s just the deep fun of writing a novel lasts longer. You could complete a lyric poem in an afternoon, you could write several on a single afternoon. A novel requires commitment, over a long haul of 6-10 weeks, or more, for years. In my experience, the writing of Magnetic Field(s) was like the deep fun of writing a poem, only stretched out over a period of six weeks, during which I just followed the characters I’d set in motion. It seemed very little like work, or ordeal, and much more like a continuing, delightful exploration. I’d write all morning, and then in the afternoon I’d go out and run or swim, something physical. Then in the evening it would be delicious to go out and socialize, bounce up against people again, enjoying the notion that in the morning you’d be back at work, knowing where to pick up the action and where it’s going to go, the scenes waiting there inside the typewriter like (as Brautigan put it) airline tickets.
Were there any particular writers or works that served as models or inspiration for you while writing the book?
- I don’t know of any book(s) that I used as models. Although now I recall that the original title was "Being in the House," modeled on Heidegger’s phrase "Being in the world." His notion that we have our being only within the context of our world was (and remains) very important to me. Because of my origins in poetry, various people have tried to connect the book to Charles Olson’s notions of "composition by field." Olson and his ideas have been tremendously important to me, and I’m sure that they influenced me in some way, but I was in no way consciously playing off his ideas at the time. The first time someone asked me this I thought it was pretty far-fetched. William Carlos Williams, who was even more important to me as I was developing as a poet, has used this circular form, and so has Gary Snyder (in Myths & Texts), and to a certain extent, Thoreau. But none of them were consciously in my mind when I wrote the book.
How did you get interested in the ideas of space(s) and violation of space?
- The central story—of Mr. Mortimer and his son—had been in my head for many years, and I’d tried to write it several times, with no success. I couldn’t get the voice right. But when I began thinking about what the burglar and I were doing—getting inside somebody else’s space (their life), and living there for some extended period, I realized that trying to write Mr. Mortimer’s story really posed the same problem, just as Mr. Mortimer tries desperately to get inside his son’s life and, failing that, attempts to construct a new life (or new lives) that they can both inhabit (the railroad set and the "living room" in the woods). The last section, "Daniel," was the final piece of the puzzle. In the first two sections, people imagine themselves into the lives of strangers, and in the last section David imagines himself into the life of a close friend. And even when I had the pieces in the right order, I couldn’t really get started in any consistent way until I’d dealt with the problem of structure—how were the three parts going to be related to one another? That problem was solved when I heard the opening line and the closing line, which are variations on each other.
Did you always envision the book comprising three distinct sections?
- Originally, I wanted to have the book printed with no breaks at all between the sections; I wanted a Table of Contents page that would specify that section two began on p.___. But when the reader got to that page, there wouldn’t be a new half-title or anything. When the last sentence of part one ended, he or she would find only a bracket announcing, in the same font as the rest: "Part Two: Kindertotenlieder." Part three was supposed to do the same thing in the middle of a sentence. My editor at Knopf, Alice Quinn, insisted on the section-titles, insisting that the reader would be confused otherwise.
It doesn’t sound like she had much faith in the intelligence of your readers. I found that one of the most captivating and intelligently executed aspects of the book is the improbable recurrence of certain phrases and images. How did this evolve?
- I had occasion recently to look again at some of the reviews Magnetic Field(s) got when it first came out, and I was surprised that in one the reviewer pointed out that two characters have identical initials. I was totally unaware that I’d given those two characters names with identical initials: other factors had gone into the selection of their names. But how could I deny that the two characters did in fact have the same initials? The parallel that critic drew from his observation seems unquestionable to me, even though it formed no part of my conscious intention for the book. Other readers have come up with a very wide range of explanations in trying to account for the repeats, the "improbable recurrence of certain phrases and images." I’ve been impressed with the sensible-ness of many of these, even where the "explanation" formed no part of my conscious intention for the book. One reviewer suggested that the repeats equal snippets of tape, of the sort that David uses in constructing his compositions. To me, they were the reader’s warrant that all these experiences actually come out of the same sensibility or consciousness, and they are all attempts to get inside someone else’s experience: the person making the attempt always brings some of his own "baggage" into the other person’s "space." So the device was one of the means by which I tried to get the reader to actually enter the "inside" of the book, in something like the way David and Anselm try to get the viewer to enter their installation, which is also called "Magnetic Fields."
Lastly then, what do you as author see the book as being "about?"
- From the very beginning, the book was about how it is to be "in the house." I was concerned with literal houses, but also with the life lived in them, and how we (or anyone) could get "inside" someone else’s experience. When I was burglarized, the burglar handed me the metaphor I needed. I was always concerned with the story simultaneously from the writer’s point of view and from the audience’s. As William Carlos Williams puts it, "an interpenetration both ways."
I recently realized that in one series of flashbacks in the TV series The Sopranos, a fade into the flashback time frame is always introduced by a close-up of a TV set showing the O. J. Simpson trial, which establishes the date of the people who are watching the trial. The repeats in Magnetic Field(s) work to establish or locate the point of view that’s anchoring all three narratives. The device was a part of the plan for the novel from the very beginning: it was a key element in how I conceived of the novel, what I think the book is "about."
Recently, a friend asked about the parentheses around the final "s" of "Field(s)" in the title. The parentheses are there to provoke the reader to ask, Is this a book made up of one magnetic field? Or of three? Or of more?—since within each of the three sections, various characters construct and/or inhabit "worlds" that interpenetrate each other." - Interview with Corey Weber

Ron Loewinsohn, Where All the Ladders Start ( Grove/Atlantic, 1987)

"Here is well-thought-out novel containing real people with whom many readers will identify. David and Jane are reasonably happily married fortyish professionals, successful and settled. For no apparent reason except boredom and that epidemic of the Eighties, "mid-life crisis,'' David has an affair with much younger Ginny. They fall in love, but David still loves Jane and their son, and Ginny remains involved with her boyfriend. Not surprisingly, David is confused. If this sounds all to predictable and familiar, it should be remembered that a trite story is no cliche to the individuals involved, and there are surely many like-minded souls out there who have much in common with David. Such readers will appreciate Loewinsohn's careful, thoughtful treatment of his dilemma." - Mary K. Prokop

"RON LOEWINSOHN'S intricately patterned - and highly praised - first novel ''Magnetic Field(s)'' (1983) introduced us to several male characters whose intersecting lives provided variations on the themes of vicarious living and loss. In an attempt to escape the confines of his own existence and participate in someone else's life, a man named Albert robs the home of a musician named David. David, in turn, finds himself becoming increasingly fascinated by his best friend Daniel's affair with a younger woman. David wonders how Daniel's betrayal of his wife will affect their own longtime friendship; and he tries to imagine the details of his affair.
A sequel of sorts to that earlier novel, ''Where All the Ladders Start'' is less concerned with the pressures that other peoples' lives exert on our actions, than with the unforeseen consequences that our actions have on those we love. Like ''Magnetic Field(s),'' it relates ordinary, domestic events in a coolly formalistic style; and like ''Magnetic Field(s),'' it uses musical devices - refrains, counterpoint and cross-rhythms - to invest its characters' actions with added resonance. It catches up with David Lyman as he's preparing to embark upon an affair - much like his friend Daniel's.
Though he's reviled Daniel's actions as the silly self-indulgences of a confused middle-aged man (and consequently terminated their 20-year friendship), David also realizes that he's envious of Daniel's decision to start over. He realizes that his own life has slid into a boring, unfulfilling rut: his wife, Jane, has become so absorbed in her antinuclear protest work that she has little time or energy left over for him; his son, Danny, is drifting out of reach, caught up in the urgencies and secrets of adolescence, and his own work as a composer has started to reflect his spiritual malaise - it's been years now since he's written anything truly daring or new.
''He felt as if he had somehow gotten stalled, sitting beside the road while all the new kids in their new cars zoomed past him. He'd been a thirty-three-year-old wunderkind when he'd taken over the orchestra from Ulrich ten years before. At the time everyone had wanted to make bets on his career. He shook his head. Somehow he'd managed to go from a 'brilliant prospect with a glittering future' to some kind of has-been -without ever having gotten there.''
How does David cope with this realization? Fairly predictably, it turns out. He develops severe headaches, spends more and more time alone in his studio and he begins fantasizing about a new member of his music group - a pretty college student by the name of Ginny. He and Ginny begin talking after rehearsals. They meet for tea. They find they like one another. Time passes. Ginny inspires David with new ideas for his work. He helps her win an award. More time passes. They sleep together. Their surreptitious meetings grow more elaborate. David figures it's a nice, safe, manageable affair - it can't get out of hand since he's married and she has a boyfriend out of town. Then he discovers that he's fallen in love.
As Mr. Loewinsohn recounts these events, we notice that his characters are constantly repeating themselves, and as their conversations and actions loop back and forth in time, a sort of echo chamber is created that leaves us with a constant sense of deja vu. This applies not only to the overall shape of the narrative (David's unwitting duplication of his friend Daniel's choices), but also to small bits of observation and phrasing. David's sad meditations about some discarded clothing found in a church basement are echoed some 40 pages later by Ginny's celebration of vintage fashion, just as one of his early come-on lines (''Isn't what's real always better?'') is later echoed by a sobering self-assessment: ''He had not felt real himself before he'd fallen in love with Ginny, and now that she was gone, there was no one for whom his own reality, his own experience of the world, had an inside.''
Just in case we fail to notice such patterning on our own, Mr. Loewinsohn inserts various statements about technique in his characters' mouths. Referring to a certain piece of music, David talks about how ''the incremental repetitions created a pattern that dissolved time, in which it was always now.'' And Ginny later tells him that she likes the part of his composition ''where you've got the same theme in all the different time signatures all going at the same time.'' In a richer, more detailed story, such self-conscious references might just seem like extra icing on the cake - clever, if superfluous jokes, shared by author and reader. In ''Ladders,'' however, there's little else to sustain our attention. The language in this volume is less poetic than in ''Magnetic Field(s)'' - for the most part, it's plain, flat-footed prose, garbled here and there by sentimental excess ('' 'The water of life,' he said, handing her the whiskey bottle, feeling his whole body smiling.'') Further, the experimental innovations of the earlier book have grown attenuated, leaving us with the bland, generic characters of high-tech fiction, unsupported by the full complement of narrative pyrotechnics they need to really function.
What then does the reader think of ''Ladders'' in the end? Frankly, one's inclined to echo the assessment of Ginny's composition offered by one of the characters in the novel. ''David, the piece is pleasant,'' he says, ''but it doesn't go anyplace, it doesn't develop any of its material. It just seems to go around and around.'' - Michiko Kakutani

"SOMETIMES I think finding true love is a silly socializing construct invented for teen-agers. Sometimes I think maybe 84-year-old married couples can explain it. Psychiatrists define and define. But nothing persuades like a concrete example.
In Where All the Ladders Start, his persuasive second novel, the poet Ron Loewinsohn spills all the details of a passionate love story. Mr. Loewinsohn is so brilliant at describing dangerous new romantic feelings that I suspect he (like his cerebral and married third-person narrator) has just waked up to feel his heart beat.
In his first, acclaimed novel, Magnetic Field(s) Mr. Loewinsohn told part of the story through the eyes of a demonic burglar and then switched third-person narrators to the husband upon whose family the burglar intrudes. (That husband, David Lyman, and his family are pretty much the same bunch portrayed in this new lyric novel.) But this time Mr. Loewinsohn really probes the innards of David, a self-absorbed, middle-aged head-of-family who falls in love in every way you can possibly imagine with his adoring student. The difference between the 20-year-old composer and flute player Ginny Johnson and nearly everybody else in the world is that she isn't making any deals - she is simply willing to give David everything she has.
Before he discovered his student David was bleak because nobody paid attention to his composing. He woke up at the side of his wife, Jane, every morning with a depressed ''goddamn'' on his lips. (To Mr. Loewinsohn's credit, I like Jane, an overworking woman whose sour reserve vanishes at antinuke rallies.) The book opens in the late-night solitary moment when David realizes that after a year of linking up at the soul and the brain, he and Ginny Johnson will have a physical affair. David vows to control his passion; it will not destroy - that is, change - his life.
It was while rehearsing his small chamber orchestra in the dismal church basement full of cartons of discarded clothing that David observed his new flute player. Respecting her musical intuitions, David found himself studying the way her tongue licked her flute mouthpiece. But the girl with Southern twangy music in her voice, nice little breasts and green eyes didn't strike him until she said how much she loved and imitated his music. (No wonder he respects her intuition - it's based on his own.) In fact, Ginny thanks him, confessing that she is the anonymous composing student for whom he fought to award an important prize.
Now, a year later, David finds Ginny at her birthday party kneeling to dig ice cubes out of a cooler. Suddenly she ''was holding his head and kissing his face, her close-cropped hair tousled and her eyes wide with a kind of excitement she couldn't have controlled even if it had ever occurred to her to want to try.''
David's mind skids. Then he exults. ''Had he ever made anyone this happy simply by being there? It was like asking for an apple and getting the whole orchard.''
Unreal? Right? Wrong? What will happen to David's new high energy when they first (Heaven forbid) disagree?
Don't worry for now. Just enjoy the book. The sex scenes, for instance, take lusty poetic license. They are first-rate as are all of David's ruminations (except alas for the few paragraphs of musical description).
A more objective novelist might force David to worry that his marital decay is his fault. To put it mildly, our David doesn't share easily. Wrapped up in his reveries, David just keeps asking his sullen wife to stop her chores to listen to music. But before I lapse into egalitarian bickers, let me add that Mr. Loewinsohn's verbal skills forced me to accept his premises.
Throughout the book, David affirms his love for nearly all sounds except those punk music noises his son makes. But finally, purged of resentment and high as a kite on his new feelings, David weeps with his wife at their son's punk concert: She shouts into his ear over the music, '' 'We made that!' He could not stop crying. He could not speak. He nodded. Oh, damn.'' However, true to form, David accepts the punk music by congratulating himself that it is he who taught the boy to rebel musically.
It is very much to Ron Loewinsohn's credit that he has written such a passionate literary novel of one man's complex, painful and manic turning - at the sacrifice of his own safety and his family's peace of mind - toward what he comes to see as the love of his life.
Driving over to Ginny's after dropping his wife off, he kept telling himself to keep his cool: there wasn't anyone else's cool he had to worry about, and there wasn't anyone else who would keep his. There were no guarantees. For all he knew, this John boyfriend of hers would be there from Atlanta or Belize or wherever. Besides, some of the players from the group were sure to be there, and he wasn't going to do anything that couldn't be taken back to Jane... In fact, what made the whole - whatever it was, an adventure - what made the whole adventure so terrific was just that it was free. No one was going to get hurt. When he got there, the front door was ajar and something by The Clash was pouring down the stairs and out into the night... The kitchen was dominated by a poster over the stove: a gaggle of Rolling Stones mouths sticking their tongues maniacally out at the world... A bar had been set up, most of its cloth-covered top now crowded with bottles and stacks of plastic party glasses. Crouched down behind it, wearing a clingy white sleeveless knit sweater was Ginny. From Where All the Ladders Start. - Susan Braudy


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