Fish Story-nLois Gould: A Sea-ChangenLois Gould’s latest novel, A Sea-Change,nis pretentious, silly, and mostly plain dull.nThe story concerns two women, two youngngirls, and two men. Much of the action takesnplace during a hurricane, and in that crisisnone of the women emerges as a resourcefulnleader, responsible for saving the lives ofnother characters. The novel in fact mightnhave been a survival story, or an analysis ofna personality under stress, but Miss Gouldnunfortunately has a cause to serve, and herndedication to that cause interferes with hernart. She establishes symbolic connectionsnwith all the subtlety of a sledge hammer,nbut at the end even she gets confused aboutnwhether to deliver one more condemnationnof the male-dominated world which hasndistorted her heroine, or sing praises ofnfemale ingenuity and toughness. Her uncertainty,nhowever, does not quite rise tonthe level of that ambivalence which makesnnovels art.nThere is, at least, no ambiguity about thenbasis for Miss Gould’s message. One of thenepigraphs of the novel is borrowed fromnD.R. Robertson’s Social Control of SexnReversal in Coral-Reef Fish, and thenpassage deserves to be quoted:nMales of labroides dimidiatus control thenprocess of sex reversal in social groups. Eachngroup consists of a male with a harem ofnfemales, among which larger individualsndominate smaller ones. The male in eachnharem suppresses the tendency of the femalesnto change, sex, by actively dominating them.nDeath of the male releases this suppressionnand the dominant female of the haremnchanges sex imrnediately.nLest any one miss the relevance ofnichthyology to events in the novel, thenauthoress generously adds a note explainingnthat labroides dimidiatus is relatednto certain cold water fish “native to thenAtlantic Ocean, off New York.” Thus then10- Chronicles of Culturennnreader can hardly be surprised when a shortntime later he finds himself off New York atna place called Andrea Island and in thencompany of a set of characters suspiciouslynresembling the social group of the fish. Forngood measure, in case anyone has sufferedna lapse of memory between the epigraphnand the concluding chapters, Miss Gould’snheroine-become-hero removes at last withnher/his harem to a nearby spot called ReefnIsland.nThe same delicacy of touch governs thenpresentation of the human social group. RoynWaterman (!) is the king who dominates thenharem. He is a moderately successfulnproducer of animated television shows andnis “no more of a sexual bully than most mennof his time and place.” During thenhurricane Roy’s position is temporarilynfilled by a wandering Coast Guardsman,nSurfman Leo Bailey. (Miss Gould apparentlynfinds name games irresistible.)nThe “harem” itself comprises the fournfemale characters. Two of them are Roy’andaughters, although the girls are only halfsisters,nfor old Roy has a number of exwivesnand a prodigious quantity of what hencalls “ex-children” scattered abroad. Thenolder girl, Diane, is fond of translating Latinnpoetry and masturbating; the younger,nRobin, plays with a collection of dollsnrepresenting famous women in history andnis the vehicle for little lectures on suchntopics as the unfairness of (male) historiansntoward Hatshepsut. The third member ofnthe group is Roy’s latest mistress, whonhappens also to be an old college chum ofnthe dominant female of the harem, Roy’snpresent wife. Poor Jessie Waterman, annerstwhile model and, at least when thennovel opens, an “old” rather than a “new”nwoman, is the fish who undergoes thenpronounced change, eventually coming toncall herself — Miss Gould’s way with namesn— E.G. Kilroy.n