Straight Man

Sallie Bingham, Author
Sallie Bingham, Author Zoland Books $22.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-944072-65-3
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Though the title of Bingham's new novel suggests one half of a comedy team, the feelings of the protagonist, Louisville college professor Colby Winn, are no joke. When Colby picks up hitchiker Ann Lee Crabtree, his initial interest in the free-spirited woman almost immediately becomes obsessive. To his friends, particularly I. and Martha Weekly, who are expecting their first child,Colby's infatuation with Ann Lee seems like a good thing. But it's soon clear that he's out of control. In one of the book's many dead-on observations, the initial consummation of Colby's affair with Ann Lee leaves him devastated when she refuses to ""play'' with him because he's too serious about her. Bingham uses the idea of playing, and Ann Lee's career--she's an intinerant actress whose current role involves both violence and on-stage romance--to pry open Colby's repressed memories, forcing him to review his failed marriage and his relationship with his physically abusive father. In fact, Colby has a violent streak of his own, which becomes more and more apparent as he watches Ann Lee rehearse her play and develop a relationship with Martha Weekly. Bingham (Matron of Honor) charts Colby's descent from lonely-but-likable to creepy-and-dangerous with sharp insights about the many forms that possessiveness takes, from the dashed expectations of new lovers (and new fathers) to the ramifications of biology as destiny. The novel's strength is the quiet authority with which Bingham writes, making her story disturbing, and disturbingly real. (Oct.)
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