A WOMAN RUN MAD by John L'Heureux


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Don't be intimidated by the references to Kierkegaard, the sprinklings of Latin in the dialogue; and don't be snowed by the ecstatic blurbs from literary types. This pschosexual thriller--which aspires to be a sort of scaled, down, porno-ed-up Iris Murdoch novel--is finally little more than a Fatal Attraction with murky pretensions and tiresome contrivances. The first few chapters are tautly promising, if slickly derivative--as J.J. Quinn, a failed academic and would-be novelist living in Boston, catches a glimpse of an elegant 30-ish blonde shoplifting in Bonwit Teller. . .and impulsively follows her as she returns to her posh Beacon Hill home. Despite his semi-happy marriage to classics scholar Claire (who's away teaching at Dartmouth most of each week), Quinn continues to shadow the Beacon Hill blonde, Sarah Slade. They soon begin an intensely sexual, barely verbal, affair. And not only does Quinn revel in a new-found sense of lusty, masculine self; he also finds inspiration for his novel, which will be about ""a sterile soul redeemed not by love, but by sex."" Meanwhile, however, the reader is filled in on the dark facts behind Sarah's cool mystery. Ten years ago she treated her abusive, traitorous lover to a grisly castration-murder. Still under psychiatric care after years of institutionalization, she's ever on the edge of insanity--with a live-in watchdog: brother-in-law Angelo, a narcissistic homosexual obsessed with Kierkegaard, blithely promiscuous (implausibly unconcerned about AIDS), but entangled in a feverish liaison with Sarah's WASP-y, married brother. And meanwhile, too, there's focus on Quinn's unsexy, loving, pregnant wife Claire--who discovers the adultery, warns Quinn about Sarah's violent past, and herself turns into a ""woman run mad"" by male betrayal. These crisscrossing lines of passion and obsession become increasingly strained, culminating in unconvincing melodrama and carnage. The clinical characterization is too glib and sketchy to take seriously, too earnest and unpleasant to match L'Heureux's somewhat ironic tone. So this artificial variation on a familiar, dubious theme--the female-as-deadly, avenger--has neither the quiet psycho-suspensefulness of Ruth Rendell, the psychoanalytic richness of Judith Rossner, nor even the sustained wicked playfulness of such frankly contrived psycho-games as Joyce Carol Oates' pseudonymous The Lives of the Twins (p. 1348). But be prepared for some trendy, quasi-intellectual interest--thanks to heavy promotion, explicit sex, literary trappings, book-world support for veteran writer/teacher L'Heureux (Desires, etc.). . .and those Hitchockian, undeniably involving opening chapters.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1987
Publisher: Viking