cover image THE BEHOLDER


Thomas Farber, . . Holt/Metropolitan, $22 (208pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-6972-3

After a long silence, Farber (A Lover's Question; Curves of Pursuit) turns out a new novel, about a middle-aged writer's affair with a beautiful, sexy, married young art history scholar, offering a substantial investigation of illicit pleasures. Having first met informally to discuss a manuscript, the writer and the student fall deeply in lust after several brief, clandestine encounters. The student tells her dull, invisible husband that she is at her aunt's house, and the lovers "all the pleasures prove" with great abandon. They even take Polaroids of each other, in increasingly erotic poses, all elegantly described in the book's pages, a smart metaphor for their awareness of their own violation and the pleasure they take in it. Of course, the relationship moves beyond sex, as the lovers become well versed in each other's pasts. The writer must also come to terms with a heart condition, a sign that his body could age beyond his capacity to love. Farber's dialogue-heavy style, with its brief episodes, works perfectly in concert with the dance of flesh that drives this book like a well-paced film. The story itself is not new, and there are some unbelievable crannies here, such as the writer's project, a verbal study of nude models who come to his apartment to pose for him, or his decision to think of his lover as his daughter, a device reiterated throughout the second half of the book without any kind of substantial reckoning, even though it is the book's most controversial element. Nevertheless, Farber knows the heart, the groin and the conscience equally well, and this novel is an impressive display of his wisdom. Agent, Jennifer Lyons. (Aug. 5)