There are some books that you take to immediately, some books that grow on you and some books that simply never go anywhere for you. This was one of them for me. It was well written, and for that reason, I commend it, but for many other reasons, I found it lacking. It was page after page of escapades of sex. The main character never found himself, treated love like an accomplishment, rather than gift. He used women and abused women for his pleasure without regard for anything else. I found him to be extremely unlikeable.
I began listening to the book with my husband, but he eventually abandoned me. After awhile, listening was like a punishment, with my mind constantly reeling with the thought, oh no, not another hot sex scene! I struggled to find the purpose of the book, the message the author was trying to impart. I thought it was going to be about a young officer’s return to civilian life and the struggles he would haves to face to readjust and rejoin his family and friends. Instead, I found a story about a maladjusted misogynist, who finds success in the working world as a book editor, but absolutely none in the world of romance. For Philip Bowman, love is simply contained in the physical act of sex, and he appears to think that women exist merely for that purpose.
When we meet Philip Bowman, in 1944, he is a junior officer on board a submarine, headed for Okinawa. Shortly thereafter, he returns to Summit, New Jersey, to pick up his life. He searches for and finds a job in publishing, and we travel with him as he spends the rest of his life working in that business as a book editor for a publishing house that handles literary books like Faulkner’s “Forever Amber”. He meets a woman named Vivian, from a rather charmed, wealthy background, and begins to experience life to the fullest. This however is short lived, and he goes from one unsuccessful relationship to another, always seeming to seek only sexual gratification from his relationships.
One problem from the start is that the characters are thrown at the reader full speed, often confusing the narrative. Apparently the author is trying to introduce the reader to the atmosphere that existed for Bowman on his return and to do that, he thrusts them into a cauldron filled with people and places that are sometimes hard to separate, at first.
The cast of characters seems to be short on moral behavior. The women are portrayed as loose and careless in their lives, with both their sex and their ambition. This is a time, however, when women had far fewer opportunities than have today. The book is burdened with a cast of less than ethical characters. Infidelity seems to be the order of the day. Unscrupulous behavior seems to be acceptable. They seem to be flying by the seats of their pants, for the most part, doing whatever they want to, without a filter. Businesses are motivated by profit alone, marriages end with abandon, respect for the rights of others is ignored. Crass remarks are made about people of color, alternate lifestyles and Jews. The book is also marked by the use of unnecessarily crude language and expressions.
Not a fan of gratuitous sex, I found the book peppered with too many sex scenes that seemed completely irrelevant and served only to point out the shallowness of Bowman’s treatment of and feelings toward women. Chauvinism doesn’t seem like an adequate enough word to describe his behavior. There were simply too many romantic interludes which only served to show that Bowman seemed only to concern himself with his own needs and cared little, long term, for others. I think he deserved the constant rejection he experienced. I found the story morbid, depressing and lacking in any positive message. It is simply about a man who has no respect for anyone, let alone women, and who is obsessed or consumed by his need for sex, never learning to temper his impulses even into his fifties. He does not seem to grow and become a better person from his experiences. Both Bowman and the company he worked for seemed to have higher standards for the books they published than Bowman had for his own behavior.
Philip Bowman was a man with arrested development who searches for love, but never finds it. It eludes him because he searches for it only in the physical sense and has no understanding of the emotional and perhaps, intellectual needs of his partners.