Four-Sided Bed

Elizabeth Searle, Author
Elizabeth Searle, Author Graywolf Press $14.95 (302p) ISBN 978-1-55597-265-3
Reviewed on: 12/29/1997
Release date: 01/01/1998
Style--in this case, lyrical and confessional-- plays as much a role as characterization does in Searle's intense, deeply moving first novel (which follows My Body to You, a story collection that won the Iowa Short Fiction Prize). In October 1984, while at college in Ohio, sociology student Allie Hart meets library worker JJ Wolfe, who graduated the previous year. Soon after they become lovers, JJ tells Allie that, four years earlier, he was ""certified schizo"" and received treatment at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center. What Allie worries about most, however, is the gender of Bird and Kin, JJ's two intimate, mysterious friends from Mass. Mental whom she's never met, and the sexual nature of their three-way relationship. Even after Allie and JJ marry and move to New Haven, where Allie works as a special-ed substitute teacher while JJ studies computer science at Yale, their marriage is undermined by JJ's continued secretiveness about his past. Allie suspects that JJ was once bisexual and may now be HIV positive. When the emotionally damaged Bird, after an eight-year silence, begins writing JJ, Allie intercepts the letters. Deception, lies, fears, pregnancy and AIDS complicate this unusually intelligent exploration of sexuality. The point of view alternates between that of Allie and that of Bird, whose letters to JJ recount Bird and Kin's travels around the world. What the novel lacks in plot, it makes up for with a compelling stop-and-start rhythm to its psychological revelations. Searle gives us a moodily erotic portrayal of emotionally confused, scared young characters searching for love and their true selves. (Feb.)
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