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All for Love by Ring Lardner Jr. (Watts: $13.95; 186 pp.)

June 09, 1985|Charles Champlin

Screenwriter ("MASH") and novelist ("The Ecstasy of Owen Muir") Ring Lardner Jr. has in "All for Love" concocted a fairly heavy-footed fable, embracing the higher sciences, Hollywood, domestic and world politics and sex, especially sex.

Jeremy Singer is a nerdy-looking molecular biologist whose delvings into gene-splitting and character manipulation lead him to an unthinkably potent aphrodisiacal serum called Eroticin.

He keeps his discovery to himself, the better to seduce a reigning movie sex queen, Loretta Kane, who is married to a dim-brained but aspiring presidential candidate named Hartley Wilder.

At length, Eroticin figures in a summit meeting, but not before its efficacy has been throbbingly demonstrated in various couplings, one involving a lab assistant whom Singer inadvertently locks in a deep freeze, achieving for her a permanent cooling off.

There's nothing wrong with the targets that Lardner has chosen: science at its most manipulative and conscienceless; Hollywood at its most manipulative and conscienceless; politics at their most dense and stubborn; sex and love at their most muddled and misidentified.

The problem is that "All for Love" is stylistically all too solemn and didactic. In a phrase that might surface at a script conference, the satire is too on the nose, too earnest. The events are carefully and cleverly plotted, and Lardner has manifestly boned up on the niceties of molecular biology. But it is all counterproductively bloodless and unleavened.

Lardner, it seems clear to the reader, is a serious and concerned man trying to be funny to achieve serious ends of commentary and achieving instead a tone of seriousness, and a set of strangely unvivid characters, little differentiated in speech.

The world that Lardner ultimately creates is, beyond doubt, profoundly preferable to our own in its fundamentally amiable way. It is just that it is made to seem hopelessly irretrievable, even as a madcap dreamy parable.

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