AS WE FORGIVE by Barbara Neil (St. Martin’s: $15.95). When a not too attractive, not too interesting young woman, Lydia, begins a love affair with her childhood friend’s rich father, Ben, many plot possibilities occur to the reader of this novel. Certainly, Lydia is trying to become a part of her beautiful friend Nathalie’s family, as she so wanted to when she was a child. And she is finally able to compete with Nathalie for Ben’s attention. Check: Both of these are made clear through the use of flashback. Ben would rather be having an affair with his own daughter, Nathalie, but Lydia will do as a surrogate. Check again: Ben’s fascination with his own daughter threatens Lydia’s growing love for him when Nathalie returns, compliments of a meddlesome friend of Ben. Because of incestuous desires, something lethal must happen. Of course.
This is not to suggest that plot is all there is to a novel. But the writing style here is as stodgy as the plotting, the prose graceless, the attempts at point of view experimentation unbelievable. Barbara Neil loses us completely when she attempts to give us some notion of what’s going on in Ben’s head, and it’s all run-on sentences that explain things we already know, or guess.
Characterization, too, is problematic. Lydia is so low-key that she seems near-catatonic, and aside from that, she’s just plain dull. One gets the feeling that this is a crafty soap opera, trying to escape its genre by removing all the gloss and fever from it. But, as television has discovered, the really interesting parts of soap opera are the gloss and fever, wardrobes, cat fights, hysteria. “As We Forgive” is a depressed soap opera, in desperate need of some surprises.