A FOUR-SIDED BED by Elizabeth Searle


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 A powerful, unsettling first novel from Searle, author of the story collection My Body to You (not reviewed). What makes Searle's work stand out is her relentless scrutiny of even the smallest events and gestures, the way in which she believably locates, in terse conversations or small gestures, the specifics of character. It's through an accumulation of such specifics that the four figures at the heart of the novel here come to take on a complex, wayward life. The somewhat mysterious, gentle JJ (Jimmy Joe) is Alice's first lover; she seems to represent some sort of necessary anchor to JJ, and the two swiftly marry. Years later, Alice begins to piece together JJ's past--his stint in a mental institution as an adolescent, his affair there with Kin Hwang, whom he is reluctant to discuss, his friendship with another young woman named Bird. It's only when a now-pregnant Alice intercepts a phone message for JJ that she realizes that Kin is in fact a man. Digging further, she discovers that JJ, Kin, and Bird were lovers in the asylum, Kin infatuated with JJ, and Bird desperately in love with Kin. Then Kin, dying of AIDS, shows up in New Haven, shepherded by Bird, both hoping to reanimate JJ's love. And JJ finds himself hovering uncertainly between Alice and Kin. Alice, reflective, careful, deeply in love with JJ, is shaken out of her seemingly stable life, forced to confront her ideas about gender and the nature of sexual love. Searle uses these conflicting attachments to pose some penetrating questions about fidelity and sexuality. More importantly, she captures, in a terse prose having the rhythm and vigor of real speech, four painfully convincing figures struggling to find a way in which to preserve love. A bright, distinctive, haunting debut.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 1-55597-265-9
Page count: 302pp
Publisher: Graywolf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1997