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FICTION : SECOND SEASON by Joseph Monninger (Atheneum: $18.95; 320 pp.).

September 06, 1987|Gary Marmorstein

Joseph Monninger's fourth novel covers familiar geographical and emotional territory. In his early 40s, sports equipment distributor Brennan McCalmont attempts to provide for himself a "second season" of youthful athletic glory. The season opens with evening jogs through his central New Jersey community and closes on a gridiron crowded with puffing middle-aged men. Cheering along the story's sidelines are Brennan's too-good-to-be-true wife Linda; computer nerd son Michael; budding beauty daughter Kate; and kindly 13-year-old son Louey, who is dying of leukemia. By the time Brennan throws his final, wobbly long pass of the football game, he and we have realized that his renewed vigor and muscle tone cannot save Louey's life.

Like its protagonist, the novel is companionable, rangy and loose-jointed--perhaps overly so. Too many sequences--the long opening, for instance, in which the McCalmonts set up their 1985 Christmas tree, or the various suburban cocktail parties--refuse to pay off, as if the author had merely incorporated notes headed "For Family Novel" without blending them thematically. They read like Cheever stories sans the dark punch lines.

Despite this lack of focus, "Second Season" brings certain pleasures only a writer as gifted as Monninger can concoct. There's a funny family post-mortem of the movie version of "Out of Africa," a goofy business banquet where Brennan runs into football-TV celebrity Don Meredith, and a thankfully unsentimental treatment of a son's cancer.

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