A sumptuously lazy fourth novel from Lemann (The Fiery Pantheon, 1998, etc.), this about a transplanted southerner adjusting to life in California.
Narrator Fleming Ford has a lot to say about not much in particular, and God bless her for saying it. A journalist and mother from Alabama, she’s married to engineer Mac, who’s brought the family to Esperenza, California, on the desert near the Mexican border, while he works on a water project. Fleming is trying to keep her career with a New York newspaper going, but she’s having a hard time coming up with stories, a problem not helped by her department’s name of “New Perspectives.” She’s also falling in love with Mr. Lieberman, the English media tycoon and owner of the paper, whom she runs into on the street in New York. Slim, elegant, just dripping with Old World panache, he satisfies her need for a particular type of decadence plus offering link to her southern past (Lieberman’s recently deceased wife hailed from Alabama as well). Meanwhile, Esperenza is driving Fleming to the brink: the never-changing weather, omnipresent mariachi bands, and beautiful houses cut from the desert five minutes prior to your moving in—it all breeds in her a desperate yearning for history, seediness, age. That her infatuation with Lieberman is pretty harmless is clear from the start, at least to the reader if not to the obsessing Fleming, who’s worried about her marriage, even if nobody else is: “All men are dangerous until you get married. But of course after that they are lethal.” Little plot-ground gets covered by the end, but that’s all right. There’s no need for plot if atmosphere, attitude, and plenty of good talk can carry you along.
A seductive read—the literary equivalent of a hammock, a warm breeze, and a tumbler of whiskey—certain to breed in readers a desire for decadent ennui and slow ruin.