ISABEL'S BED by Elinor Lipman


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 The unabashedly romantic Lipman (The Way Men Act, 1991, etc.) has a talent for turning talk-show fare and tabloid headlines into light yet meaningful fiction. When 41-year-old Harriet's longtime boyfriend falls in love with and quickly marries someone else (``There went twelve years: my youth''), the legal secretary and aspiring writer responds, on a whim, to an ad for a live-in ghostwriter. She soon finds herself on Cape Cod, sharing swank quarters there with Isabel. Isabel's autobiography is of interest because her married lover was shot by his wife when they were caught in flagrante delicto, and she is as glamorous and devil-may-care as Harriet is humdrum and quiet. It is inevitable, in a book with two opposites, that they will learn things from each other, but what they do learn turns out to be quite surprising. Also on the premises are Isabel's sometimes estranged husband, Costas, a former big name in the art world who fell into disgrace, and Pete, a down-to-earth former fisherman who now acts as Isabel's general handyman. The two women are particularly clear and well balanced. Isabel is a likable sort, who gives of herself freely. One of Lipman's great strengths has always been her ability to draw wholly sympathetic, completely unglamorous characters, and Harriet is no exception. Initially, she finds herself so caught up in Isabel's story, indeed in Isabel's daily life, that her own work (on a novel based on her parents' two marriages to each other) is slipping away. Slowly she evolves, however, learning to push for what she wants. Lipman's details are subtle and telling, adding texture to a novel that might have gone over the edge with Isabel's often outrageous behavior. There are a few gaps in the story--Costas's part is a little vague, for instance--but the prose is so natural that only in retrospect will readers notice them. So well paced that you could devour it in one sitting, but so much fun that you'll regret finishing so quickly if you do. (Author tour)

Pub Date: March 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-671-88160-4
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Pocket
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1994


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