A Desert of Pure Feeling

Judith Freeman, Author
Judith Freeman, Author Pantheon Books $24 (0p) ISBN 978-0-679-43290-6
Paperback - 274 pages - 978-0-679-75271-4
Hardcover - 978-0-517-30603-1
Open Ebook - 171 pages - 978-0-307-81559-0
Open Ebook - 1 pages - 978-1-299-04692-4
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Novelist Lucy Patterson, the 45-year-old narrator, tells us that once she wanted to write a huge historical narrative but that ""the harder I tried to focus on my grand themes... the more personal were the events, the smaller the ideas, that overtook my imagination."" It's an apt description of Freeman's effort here. The novel moves between the present, in which Lucy tells her story from the Las Vegas motel to which she has retreated in the wake of a traumatic disaster, and Lucy's past, mostly as it concerns Dr. Carlos Cabrera, a Guatemalan doctor who saved the life of Lucy's young son and with whom Lucy had a formative affair. When Carlos shows up, after all these years, aboard a cruise ship on which Lucy is traveling, they rekindle their affair. The disaster strikes after another passenger forces from Carlos a revelation about his youth in Nazi Germany. This in turn forces from Freeman some awkward and dramatically flat exposition about the tricky nature of moral judgment. Back in Vegas, Lucy is drawn closer--emotionally and erotically--to Joycelle, a vulnerable hooker and stripper. Freeman (Set for Life; Chinchilla Farm) would have done better to confine herself to a deeper juxtaposition of Lucy's two loves--the refined, sophisticated older Carlos and the vulgar, semiliterate younger Joycelle. Lucy's story is a moving, deliberate meditation on love that is at its best when simply mapping the interior lives of its characters. It falters when Freeman throws in Nazis, Mormons and Guatemalan terrorism, elements that provide a false, often melodramatic sense of scope to what is, in the end, a very intimate novel. (May)
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