The Fatigue Artist

Lynne Sharon Schwartz, Author Scribner Book Company $22.5 (320p) ISBN 978-0-684-80247-3
In the months after her husband's violent death, narrator Laura, 40, comes down with chronic fatigue syndrome, a little understood illness of the immune system. The disease prompts Laura to meditate on her companionable but loveless marriage, her affairs with a philandering actor and a staid lawyer and her pursuit of self-discipline through the study of tai chi. Schwartz (Leaving Brooklyn) considers the notion of illness as performance art and suggests that nobly suffering disease can become akin to a life's work; she also makes implicit comparisons to the psychic and physical ills afflicting society. One doctor observes that Laura's illness is the result of ``modern life''--``The environment's messed up, the air, the food.'' An alternative medical diagnosis, based on the Chinese concept of chi, is not much more helpful, suggesting that Laura's organs are in an ``unbalanced condition'' but will improve as toxins leave her body. The narrative suffers from a surfeit of peripheral characters who fail to move the story forward or draw the narrator out of her self-absorption. Realism, too, takes a back seat here: In real life, a middle-class New Yorker with a vague chronic illness might also see a therapist, haggle with health insurance companies and worry about loss of income. Laura, a novelist of medium repute, is free from all such material concerns. These faults notwithstanding, one follows Laura's introspection and her gradual recovery with real interest. Schwartz's painstaking, literary prose and her sensitive exploration of the themes of illness and healing create a resonant picture of a woman confronting the chaos of contemporary life with humor and intelligence. Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club alternates. (June)
Reviewed on: 05/29/1995
Release date: 06/01/1995
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