Patricia Traxler, Author . St. Martin's Minotaur $24.95 (354p) ISBN 978-0-312-27484-9

Blood red is the color of choice in this stylish, modishly erotic but only occasionally thrilling first novel by an award-winning poet. It's the favorite hue of painter Honora ("Norrie") Blume, who at 36 wins a Larkin Fellowship at Radcliffe in Cambridge, Mass., and it dominates her sex life as well: from the steamy dreams she has about her married novelist lover, Michael, to the horrifying miscarriage of his child. Unfortunately, red is also the color of a gigantic herring, which Traxler drags onstage early in the book in the persona of a disturbed Chilean journalist named Clara Brava. This demanding, jealous young woman quickly becomes the friend/neighbor from hell—especially when Norrie is much more successful than her at making friends with Clara's idol, an Indian poet named Devi Bhujander. So when Devi is stabbed to death outside of the college-owned apartment building where all three women live, Clara is immediately suspected to be the killer. Having softened us up by creating Clara as the perfect monster, it would have been much more dramatically satisfying if Traxler had showed other possible murderers. She does—but it's a ponderous (and finally hard to swallow) effort, with too much time spent discussing whether lover Michael will actually leave his tedious wife. There are some lovely poetic images ("I felt a bloat of grief") and some interesting secondary characters (especially an old woman dying in a nursing home, with whom Norrie has a strong bond based on a failed love affair with her dead son), but in the end the book conveys the thick and clotted feeling of too much emotion and not enough thought. (Sept.)

Reviewed on: 07/09/2001
Release date: 09/01/2001
Paperback - 368 pages - 978-0-312-30401-0
Open Ebook - 352 pages - 978-1-4299-8190-3
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