The focus of the book is on the Wheeler family, Frank & April parents, Jennifer and Michael the children up in Connecticut. That perennial American stranger, the absent father, is in both the Wheelers lives. The novel opens with an amateur drama production of Sherwood’s The Petrified Forest. Being a Googleamus I find that it is a sort of key or ‘clef’ if you will. (from the play)
Gabby (undeterred): We could go to France, and you’d show me everything, all the cathedrals and the art—and explain everything. And you wouldn’t have to marry me, Alan. We’d just live in sin and have one hell of a time.
Squier: That’s a startling proposal, Gabrielle. I hadn’t expected to receive anything like it in this desert….
Gabby: Wouldn’t you like to be loved by me?
plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, April.
Both the Wheelers are in the Holdenesque argot of the era (1955) phonies, actors in search of a character or something. The little grace notes of observation honed by empirical acquaintance are delicate. Frank Wheeler drinks dry sherry on a Sunday. It is I suppose almost Calvinist after the hard liquor of the week and slightly brittle and sophisticated. Not that they are narcissistic, Narcissus had an image that he loved, they are looking for one that someone else can love.
I won’t say anything about the plot. Period note: She decamps to the couch. Let’s not be too snotty about Suburbia, how do you think you got to College, punk. This is a very fine novel by someone I had never heard of. It is one I will reread.