cover image Snakebite Sonnet

Snakebite Sonnet

Max Phillips. Little Brown and Company, $22.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-316-70620-9

At the outset of this poised first novel, Nicholas Wertheim, child of aging hippies in suburban New Jersey, sucks the incision he's made in 19-year-old Julia Turrel's snakebitten thigh. That the snake turns out not to be poisonous at all-and that this news comes from Craig, Julia's 38-year-old boyfriend-suggests both the intensity and the misadventures that will mark the relationship between Nicholas and Julia. As Nicholas matures, moving to the ""bucolic vacuum'' of Ithaca to study at Cornell, and then to Manhattan to work as an artist, he chronicles his erotic history. His liaisons somehow intimately involve Julia, whether she is physically present or not. Julia herself never loses her hold on him, even as her own multiple relationships-warped by her alcoholism and the aftershocks of a quasi-sexual complicity with her unstable father-complicate her essential bond with Nicholas. The writing-veering into lush descriptions of one erotic entanglement after another, ruefully evoking the optimism of young artists scrabbling for a foothold, or indulging the edgy romanticism of someone damaged by the vagaries of his beloved's affections-flirts with excess. But Phillips demonstrates a poet's ear for lyric precision and a comic's for surefire punch lines. Translation rights: Harold Ober; author tour. (June)