LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR
by JUDITH ROSSNER
284 pages. Simon & Schuster. $7.95.
This novel may be the literary sleeper of the summer. It is assaulting the bestseller lists and has been sold to the paperbacks for $300,000 and to the movies for $225,000. Mr. Goodbar richly deserves its success; it is a rare kind of book: both a compelling "page turner" and a superior roman à clef.
Five years ago, a young kindergarten teacher was murdered in her apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side. Her death seemed to be another pitiful urban statistic: a woman butchered because she walked in on a robbery or resisted rape. But as it turned out, the teacher had been cruising singles bars nightly and taking rough trade home.
Rossner's fourth fine noveland her first successis based on this case. It begins with the murderer's confession, so there is no suspense. The first few pages contain most of the shocks: bludgeoning, stabbing, necrophilia. Then the author follows her heroine's past from girlhood to deathbed. Theresa Dunn grows up in an Irish, middle-class family in The Bronx. Her childhood is unremarkable except for a case of polio that leaves her with a very slight spinal curvature. An adored older brother dies in an Army training-camp accident; a beautiful sister starts trashing her life with a succession of white-collar cads.
As an education major at City College, Theresa finds such a fate unthinkable for herself. She is not nearly glamorous enough to get abortions abroad or need them. But she soon falls in love with a professor who uses her as a part-time bedmate and exam grader.
Ms. Victim. Taught by nuns, Theresa can recognize an English sentence. What she cannot see is that her beloved Dr. Engle is a callous lout. He dispatches her upon graduation with a quote from the Bible: "For everything there is a season." Parsable, no doubt, but Theresa can never understand itor what follows. The turn, turn, turn begins. She gets a job teaching first grade. She feels that she "couldn't survive another love." Before long, she is hitting the Mr. Good-bar singles bar, arriving alone but leaving with pickups.
There are, she realizes, two Theresas. "There was a Miss Dunn who taught a bunch of children who adored her, and there was someone named Terry who whored around in bars. But the only thing those two people had in common was the body they inhabited. If one died, the other would never miss heralthough she herself, Theresa, the person who thought and felt but had no life, would miss them both." Miss Dunn is, in fact, the least convincing character in the book. Terry, the amateur hooker, is much more interesting and complex. Feminists have already taken her up as a victim in a male-oriented world. Who can trust a man after an interlude with Dr. Engle? Then, too, Theresa's reservations about men are confirmed by the ones she asks to her apartment.