What is the definition of pleasure or happiness? How do we achieve that and find ourselves understanding and living the good in life? Within the pages of this novel you will get to Jay, a Wall Street banker, Greta his mistress an aspiring academic hoping to attain tenure and become an associate professor, Rudi a German graduate student of philosophy and Tania a local waitress who has a great impact on the male characters in this novel. Each one caught up in their own private worlds. Each one hoping to find their perfect niche in life and throughout the novel you will hear them talk, take apart, critique and analyze their lives, their discussions and the topics that interest them to a point that you the reader will be an insider learning where these characters are coming from, their successes and at the end understand the true meaning of change and loss. The Cowpet Bay Community is the setting and the stories of each character are told within several chapters yet they intersect.
Each relationship depended on the others as we meet Jay and Greta first. Jay is married to Dorie and thinks he is blind to his transgressions but let’s start at the beginning and get to know Jay first. A Wall Street banker who does very well and has this total need for Greta in his life. But, getting to know her you realize that she is the one in control and has the upper hand. Every encounter is well orchestrated and every meeting to her liking. Meet Jay the first to come to St. Thomas within the plot of this book. Thinking about the death of his friend George and what he might say as he was asked to give a speech at the funeral, he recalls the invitation to come to St. Thomas from Howard Felsner. The two became fast friends again and their morning walks were one of their staples talking over daily events to come, the fact that Jay made a fortune in the banking business and their mutual love for Greta. Alone without Dorie, an artist and painter, he chose Deck Point as his new place of residence. Greta was a friend then a loved and Dorie his wife engaged in her work. As Howard would say and referred to him meaning Jay as the hedonist. As materialist, he and Dorie seemed suited for each other and since they were materialistic so were their children. Jay and Howard took walks every morning, breakfast and then their meeting time. Greta and Jay were close and as time goes on their friendship would change.
Greta is next and at times she wanted to be alone even though Howard was a good friend she seemed so self-absorbed in her own needs that she would toss that of others aside. Howard definitely has OCD and set in his ways mentoring anyone that would cross his path and at times Greta felt that he wanted her to succeed in her goals more than she did. Howard when you get to know him better the author relates has to control all situations no matter how small or how large. When Jay went back to New York to speak at the funeral of his friend, Greta took the opportunity to rearrange his living space to suit her own comforts and needs letting readers know that she too was only concerned with what would give her the most pleasure. Lies and deceits seemed to rattle Greta when she learned what Jay told his wife and how he thought he was being indiscreet about their affair. But, just because you think you have someone duped don’t be so sure.
Enter my favorite character Rudi a student taking time out from his life and studies and now becomes part of this elite group. Taken in by Howard on the spot and of course Greta seems to have a strong liking to him, he is smart, quite the researcher and philosophy is his strong suit and he and Howard have many interesting discussions about different texts and their interpretations which the author shares with readers. Each character searching for their perfect life or pleasure and each one will find that the ultimate result is not what they expected.
Rudi intrigued Greta and glad to meet up with him a second time telling him of how he met Greta and their association. Rudi seemed taken with her and Greta now would have a date with this young scholar. Rudi explained to Howard that other thinkers may have other forms of discovery and he is taking a break from his studies. His personal aptitude he shares for going on in academia is not the question. His training has prepared him for it. But, Howard needs to be in control and asked what being in St. Thomas would hold for him. Rudi has found new found pleasures like underwater swimming as a sport of pastime and he needed a break from his usual routine as Rudi explains his connection to Germany and his father born during the war raised in the American sector. Their discussions led to politics, the war and even Greece. When he left Greta and Howard continued their talk focusing on Jay his return to the island and the changes he she made. What will his reaction be and how will they interact as Jay became ill, had the flu and now Greta had to deal with that along with Howard? Plans were discussed when he was better and Greta was thinking about canceling her plans and coming back in April or maybe not!
Rudi and Greta have an interesting evening and talk about his job at Ainsley’s the bar and Tania the manager who runs the place where he is staying. Howard and Jay seemed to be competing for Greta’s attention as Howard drove her to the airport but would this be the last time she was in St. Thomas? She seemed to have another agenda in mind. Next, we get to know Howard in the coming few chapters and realize that much of his time with Rudi now wanting him as a mentor would enlighten readers to some of the classics like the Odyssey and Hercules. Greta left and Howard felt a huge sense of loss and loneliness.
The discussion moves to one about Freud and listening to his own thoughts and thinking that the trouble with Freudian dialect was that it was “clinically directed to viewing the human psyche as Freud called it was not just the mind but also the soul from the standpoint of its most troubled states. He had other theories that he contemplated about too. Within chapter 29 the author has Howard reflect upon his feelings about Jay and his relationship with Greta as well as Dorie’s absence, which comes into play later on. Jay alone and left to his own devices did Dorie even care? Each chapter focuses on the feelings and desires of each character as they expound on their own needs and feelings yet for some reason Greta seems to be the catalyst in many ways. Jay relates to Howard that he feels that Greta is someone he can trust but for how long?
Rudi’s story is next and as we get to know him and his views on life and his lust for philosophy he becomes closer to Howard and wants to learn more about the classics and he borrows many different volumes hoping to satiate his thirst for knowledge and at the same time getting Howard’s take on the many different volumes he borrows. But, Rudi unfortunately has this passion for underwater diving and his death takes a serious toll on the characters especially Tania who he has developed a relationship with and who seems devastated by his death. Tania just wants to continue you might say where Rudi leaves off with learning about the Odyssey because Rudi’s journal and letters are in German and she has asked Howard to translate them hoping to learn what he felt for her and more.
Things take on a drastic turn when Dorie confronts Jay about his affair with Greta and yet even though she seems upset her mind is working in different directions and it seems this whole temper tantrum was planned and her requests for what she wants from the divorce are calculated and devious. She does not really appear to be that taken aback and her only concern like the others is what will make her life good and filled with pleasure. Jay realizes that he is about to lose more than just material things a money as the author shares his journeys back and forth and what happens when he loses his job. But, is money everything I guess it must be to these characters as he loses both Dorie and Greta takes on another role as an academic hoping to become an associate professor and get tenure. Her life goes in another direction, Howard seems to feel alone and at times you wonder how he copes with his isolated way until we come to know Tania better and his goal changes to one of teacher, mentor and almost father figure to her. Wanting more out of life will learning with Howard and reading different pieces of literature enhance her mind and make her strive for more in life? The ending leaves you wondering whether each character is truly fulfilled and what happens when some others are added to their close-knit group. Hedonism has many definitions and is portrayed by each character in different ways but just what is the definition of a perfect life filled with good and pleasure? You the reader after reading his book by author Donne Raffat will decide if Tania, Greta, Jay, Howard and if he had lived Rudi achieve that or is there to life? Interesting characters with varied personalities and goals and yet some are the same will the author bring them back so we can learn what happens to them next?
Fran Lewis: Just reviews/MJ network/MJ magazine