Kirkus Reviews QR Code
ARKANSAS by David Leavitt


Three Novellas

by David Leavitt

Pub Date: April 3rd, 1997
ISBN: 0-395-83704-9
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Grim, disturbing explorations of the way in which lust and loneliness can destroy the possibility of love, by the author of two story collections (including A Place I've Never Been, 1990) and three novels (While England Sleeps, 1993, etc.). In ``The Wooden Anniversary'' Nathan and Celia are reunited after a five-year separation, and almost immediately misunderstand one another again. Celia, desperately in love with Nathan (who is gay) for many years, having finally pried herself away from him, has lost weight, gotten a husband, and become the proprietress of a successful cooking school in Tuscany. Nathan, ``world weary and travel worn,'' becomes infatuated with Mauro, Celia's handsome young Italian chef, and out of simple lust, or boredom (and, perhaps, with the masochistic Celia's unconscious assistance) sets a devastating farce in motion. ``Saturn Street'' concerns Jerry, a young, deeply disaffected writer in Los Angeles who finds himself increasingly attracted to Phil, handsome, blithe, and dying of AIDS. Leavitt chillingly captures the sense of a devastated gay community in which everyone now ``operates from fear.'' ``The Term Paper Artist,'' the most troubling of the three novellas, plays some unsettling games with fact and fiction. The narrator, ``David Leavitt,'' having been sued by an English poet for passages in his novel While England Sleeps, goes home to California, where he receives a bizarre offer from the handsome, amoral, heterosexual college-age son of family friends: He'll allow David to perform a sex act with him, if he writes a term paper of vital importance. David does so, word circulates, and he finds himself besieged by a variety of straight college boys willing to strike a similar bargain. There's an alarming sense of self-laceration in all this, not much redeemed by the suggestion that the sex (and the research on the papers) somehow stimulates David's hitherto exhausted creative energy. Sad tales of anomie and of confused, contradictory quests for love. (Author tour)