TALKING IN BED by Antonya Nelson


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 The title is particularly apt: The only time the characters in this sad, startling first novel really do talk to each other, sharing guilty secrets and long-nursed regrets, is in bed. Outside the bedroom, they are almost always tangled in confusion and deceits. Much of that confusion is generated by Evan Cole. He and Paddy Limbach meet at a hospital. Paddy, a roofer, has just lost his father to a heart attack. Evan, a mordant, unsparing psychologist (who ``could not see himself as an ordinary man''), has been visiting his father, who is mortally ill but still somehow clinging to life. Clinging, that is, until Evan, angry, exasperated, suffocates him and gets away with the crime. Nelson, the author of three strong collections of short fiction (Family Terrorists, 1994, etc.), pulls off something both unsettling and uncommon here: Without ever excusing Evan, she refuses to let us dismiss him. He is, in many ways, a decent man. Overcome by guilt, he seeks out Paddy, a figure who at first seemed nothing more than ``a large blustery blonde'' in cowboy boots, but who is in fact an alert and deeply compassionate figure. His company gives Evan some small solace, a respite he cannot seem to find with Rachel, his bright, affectionate, capable wife. Evan, finding himself increasingly ``a man without feelings,'' leaves Rachel and, perversely, works to throw Paddy and Rachel together. They begin an affair. Nelson's portrait of Rachel, as she struggles to master her anger at Evan and to recover some sense of independence and strength, is very exact, a subtle portrait of a woman coming to grips with past compromises and present pain. Evan seeks to undo what he has done, and Rachel must choose between two men who seem equally necessary to her. There's not really a happy ending here, but there is a believable one. Altogether, an unsparing dissection of adultery and human frailty.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-395-68678-4
Page count: 274pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1996


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