Where has Susan Minot been? A pretty, clean-cut, wistful author who turns out pretty, clean-cut, wistful narratives — 1989’s Lust & Other Stories was passed around many a New England college dorm — she popped up not incongruously two years ago as a screenwriter for Stealing Beauty, Bernardo Bertolucci’s failed Liv Tyler vehicle. One can imagine her (Minot, that is) lolling on a Tuscan field in perpetuity, refining her craft by osmosis. And Evening, her lovely but flawed new novel, does little to dissolve our sense of her as a permanent literary ingenue.
The book’s conceit is both slight and momentous. Confined to her bed and told she ”won’t see the leaves change this year,” 65-year-old Ann Lord, nee Grant, lets her mind wander back 40 years to a brief fling she had with a sootily handsome young doctor named Harris Arden (how Philadelphia Story these name sound!). Harris appears to have been something of a bounder, but no matter: Their few clandestine fumblings made more of an impression on Ann than three husbands, her singing career, and her children — one of whom died at age 12 — combined.
For good long stretches, Minot funnels the watery free-flow feeling of Virginia Woolf (”You look nice tonight they said you look beautiful I don’t know what to put on”) into the brittle, sparkling American milieu of F. Scott Fitzgerald (”smoke hanging in the air at Sling’s, Fiona fishing an onion out of a martini glass, the streets Sunday morning…deserted”). For short bad ones, she’s only a few pants from a Judith Michael novel (”She strained upward Harris Harris clinging upward”). But it’s easy to forgive modern letters’ eternal debutante her shortcomings. She makes it all look so fresh and effortless. B+