cover image Animal Acts

Animal Acts

Rhoda Lerman. Henry Holt & Company, $22.5 (263pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-1418-1

Justly known as a writer's writer, Lerman produces fascinating plots and lush, seductive prose in the service of transcendent questions. Her sixth novel (after God's Ear ) is a tour de force in which a wealthy Long Island woman embarks on a physical and spiritual odyssey of self-discovery--with a gorilla. Taut and darkly suspenseful, it is also a thesis on the way men and women think, feel, and decode the world. When Linda Morris impulsively decides to leave her unresponsive husband and her menacing British lover, she has no idea that the van she takes from the garage contains a gorilla her husband has rented from an amusement park. Initially vowing to jettison the animal, whose name is Max, she instead watches him kill a brutal keeper, becomes embroiled in a desperate plan to shield him from the authorities, and begins a hazardous journey to Florida, where Max can be spirited out of the country to safety. Max is an immensely appealing character; and feisty, wisecracking Linda offers ruminations about gender differences that are barbed and poignant. Lerman's writing has a sweetness and a desperation that sharpen her piquant questions about human existence, the ways she delineates the stresses of contemporary marriage and the workings of a woman's heart. Yet her device of having Linda's husband and lover carry on dialogues inside her head is lumbersome, and her gothic imagination can wear thin when it veers into the mystic. This novel may not be for everyone, but those who love it will be fierce in its praise. (July)