The Body Spoken

Janice Deaner, Author
Janice Deaner, Author Dutton Books $25.95 (339p) ISBN 978-0-525-94414-0
Reviewed on: 03/01/1999
Release date: 03/01/1999
Mass Market Paperbound - 352 pages - 978-0-452-27973-5
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Filmmaker and novelist Deaner (Where Blue Begins) skillfully evokes the framework and dreamy pacing of film in this affecting novel about two strangers who meet on a train. At Manhattan's Penn Station, Hemy Lourde (the apt French name means ""heavy"") boards an Amtrak liner bound for L.A. She sits next to a male passenger and begins their dialogue with the cryptic remark that she's been living as a man, under her beloved brother's name, for five years. As the train makes its way over the American landscape, Hemy recounts the story of her life to the fascinated stranger, who becomes her lover en route. Born in the 1970s in upstate New York to a playwright father and a fervently imaginative mother, Hemy, sister Zellie and brother Oscar grow up working in the family business--a nightclub/bar located in their living room, serving illegal homemade liquor. Hemy's early sexual confusion is exacerbated when she tries to save a man from a racist attack and accidentally shoots off part of the assailant's genitals. Although Hemy and her victim, Mr. Antonovsky, a Russian survivor of Stalinist-era terror, develop a strangely beautiful and healing relationship, Hemy can't escape the persistent rumors of the town gossips, and she begins a tormented period of her life. During the four-day journey, Hemy engages her lover, who is fleeing phantoms of his own, in the story of her failed marriage, her work (as a man) in a prison, speculations on lesbianism and the violent recovery of her sense of womanhood. Told alternately in the first- and third-person, the narrative is lyrically written and urgently paced, a fluid American odyssey that combines the cinematic glamour of Body Heat and Murder on the Orient Express with the black-and-white film verite of a Death Row prison documentary. Through Hemy's gender crisis, Deaner offers a provocative exploration of identity, transforming the young woman's nightmarish past into a bittersweet trajectory toward her unique sexual truths. (Apr.)
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