David Huddle, Author . Houghton Mifflin $24 (208p) ISBN 978-0-618-08173-8

An art professor ignores her marital problems while she creates an elaborate, semi-erotic literary fantasy involving 17th-century painter Georges de La Tour in Huddle's beautifully written but awkwardly plotted second novel. Suzanne Nelson, teaching at the University of Vermont, is stifled in her marriage to Jack, a garrulous, outgoing man whom she sees as superficial and annoying. While Suzanne retreats into a fantasy world centered on the aging La Tour's odd relationship with his teenage model from a French village, Jack turns for comfort to old flame Elly Jacobs, who has recently returned to town. At first Suzanne is oblivious to their affair, but when she finally realizes that Jack's wandering is inevitable, she lets him leave to explore his new romance, content to delve further into La Tour's last paintings. After Jack has problems with Elly, he and Suzanne find themselves pulled back toward one another, much to their surprise. Huddle is a graceful, eloquent writer who does his best work in the chapters in which he brings to life La Tour's artistic world and the problematic attraction between a beautiful teenage girl and the artist as an old man. Jack and Suzanne are also well-drawn characters, but Huddle never manages to make the artistic sensuality of La Tour's story resonate with Suzanne's personality or with Suzanne and Jack's romantic history, which never rises above the level of restless bed-hopping. Huddle's talent still shines through here, but this book is a step down from his successful debut. (Feb. 8)

Reviewed on: 12/10/2001
Release date: 01/01/2002
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