of spice that Ms. Wolitzer sprinkles innnow and then (usually in the form ofnsexual intermezzos) don’t help much.nThis tale of an aimless young womannand a man bored and frustrated withnmarriage is soporific rather than poignant.nCollege student Daphne has no discerniblengoals until she becomes involvednwith Kenny; her aims then seem merelynto be rationalizing their relationship andnbecoming his wife. She apparentiy hasnno idea how to choose; she simply acceptsndirection from whatever morendominant presences are around. Daphnenmoves through life as gullible as a puppy,nas assertive as a sleepwalker.nKenny, on the other hand, can and hasnchosen, but he is now disillusioned withnhis choices. It appears that he hasn’tnreally chosen so badly, but that all thenother possibilities “out there” seem evernso much more appealing and novel thannhis now-staid existence. His would, onnthe surfece, seem to be a quite pleasantnlife: a good job, an attractive home, anbeautiful wife, two delightfiil children.nAppearances, of course, are deceptive.nBut Wolitzer does not—or cannot—nprobe beneath superficiality, so thenreader is unable to evaluate or to judgenthe protagonist and his choices. Ketmynwants, or thinks he wants, somethingnmore—or perhaps it’s just somethingndifferent. Wolitzer gives the reader nonway to tell. Kenny goes after Daphne,nwhen he meets her in a college nightnclass, as if he were living in a fl-atemitynhouse instead of wedded suburbia. Hisnmajor problem, in the absence of anynother explication, looks like boredom;nhis wimpy approach to his self-inflictedndilemma inspires much the same ennuinin the reader.nIn the hands of a writer of talent, onenwith a firm ethical anchor, such a storyncould mean something. But Ms. Wolitzernseems unable to offer either judgmentnor profundity. The tearing apart of anmarriage is a soul-wrenching life-changingnprocess. No decent man (or woman)ncan simply negate a large block of yearsnin his life and forget them. Kenny (thatnis, Wolitzer) never actually faces his re­n22inChronicles of Culturensponsibilities; he only worries aboutnthem. The denouement, when it at longnlast arrives, is thoroughly predictable:nwife’s attempted suicide, husband’snfrenzied remorse and renewed attemptnto salvage the marriage. Ms. Wolitzerneven evades the illicit lovers’ final meeting,nbringing Keimy only to Daphne’sndoor. Finally, the emotionally maulednparamour quits her detested job andnmakes preparations to begin anew elsewhere.nHer quiet acceptance of the outcomenof the affair is, presumably, an indicationnthat she has always known, deepndown, that it would end this way. Hernpreparations for a change are apparentlynsupposed to indicate her newly acquirednemotiotial maturity.nJ. odd Walton’s Louie & Women is andifferent approach to choosing. Structurally,nchapters guided by the thirdpersonnnarrator alternate with varyingnfirst-person discourse. The style is sparento the point of bareness. Walton apparentlynwants to present his characters in ankind of silhouette fashion. Louie &nWomen amounts to a series of vignettesnthat would fit well into the format of anweekly television series, a little on thennnorder of one from the early 70’s, ThennCame Bronson. Mr. Walton is cited asnthe author of a screenplay as well asnnovels. The reader can see the connection,nbut his strategy works nevertheless.nLouie is an adult dropout. He is firstnpresented in a lettuce field where he hasnbeen employed as migrant labor. Gradually,nthrough subsequent flashbacklikenchapters, a little more is learned aboutnthe choices that have led to his presentnsituation—but virtually nothing of Louienthe man. And that appears to be deliberate.nMr. Walton is saying: “Here is Louienand here are these women; these arentheir choices and the results.” Period.nBut with such spareness, he is able tonimply judgment—of the tart whom Louienrescues fi-om rape, of the pathetic womannwho sells her body to a wealthy degeneratenin order to live what appears to hernto be a refined, dignified existence, ofnthe suicide of an older couple Louienmeets in his wanderings.nThe author presents these human beingsnwith uncompromising honesty. Theyntake responsibility for themselves, forntheir actions, their choices. Even whennthey run away, no blame is cast onnanother. They know right flrom wrong; ifnthey sometimes choose to transgress—nand they do—^they are aware that it is antransgression. There is no rationalizing,nno searching for “meaning,” no blathernabout “finding” themselves or “raising”ntheir consciousness. And therein lies thenmajor difference between Mr. Waltonnand Ms. Wolitzer. Besides the feet thatnWalton is a far more skillful writer, he isnable to look even unpleasant aspects ofnhumarmess in the fece and write clearlynabout them. Wolitzer peers out of thencomer of her eye, makes excuses, andnproceeds to wrap a bland cloak of ambiguitynand rationalization around whatevernshe sees.nMoral ambiguity, of course, is thenorder of the day in the 1980’s. It’s a perniciousnorder. It’s the reason why/w thenPalomarArms has received far more attentionnin print than Louie & Womennhas. Ms. Wolitzer follows slavishly then