LYING LOW by Diane Johnson
Kirkus Star


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In the California college town of Orris stands a rooming house owned by ballet teacher Theodora Wait, 60, and her brother Anton, a famous nature photographer. In summer residence are only two boarders, Ouida, a sweet-natured Brazilian member of the ""World Messianity"" movement, and a quiet, private girl known to the others solely as ""Lynn."" Actually her name is Marybeth Howe, and she's an FBI fugitive, having killed a scientist in a laboratory bombing six years before. Orris is a perfect refuge; Johnson's eye for mendicant/hip/political manifestations makes this a piece of fine California reportage. Early on, Marybeth is accidentally identified by a graduate student she grew up with; with sad annoyance, she makes ready to pull up stakes and move on, half toying with the idea of giving up altogether. But the others in the house, tipped off by the graduate student, Chuck, don't want to let her go; they'll hide her, give her a new identity, do whatever they can. The comic potentials of all this are played way down, subsumed under Johnson's perceptive intelligence: ethics here are risen to, not stumbled upon. Theo, a truly cultured, liberal, and sympathetic woman, seems to take up the challenge of Marybeth's dilemma most finely; she has an almost Confucian kind of wisdom, and when she dies (in a jailbreak: she's gone to the local penitentiary to give a ballet demonstration/lesson, and is taken hostage), it seems somehow the right sort of death: independent, strange, and individual. The book is a chamber novel, basically a quartet for four intelligences--and if it doesn't quite directly strike the heart, the satisfactions--for the head especially--are substantial.

Pub Date: Oct. 19th, 1978
ISBN: 161683496X
Publisher: Knopf