Lying in Bed

J. D. Landis, Author Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill $19.95 (294p) ISBN 978-1-56512-068-6
Landis, former editor-in-chief at William Morrow (where he published writers like Robert Pirsig and Richard Powers, a possible clue to his offbeat mindset), is presenting this as his first novel, although he has written other adult and children's titles under pseudonyms. Likely to cause a considerable stir, it's one of the most uninhibited and intensely sexy novels to appear in some time. Its eroticism is not just incidental but central, suffusing the lives of the besotted pair in whose voices it is told. John Chambers is a wealthy, utterly self-absorbed intellectual, devoted to Nietzsche, elaborate wordplay (he constantly employs words that are not even in the dictionary) and classical music, which echoes at all hours through his splendid SoHo loft. So lost inside his own head that he once even gave up speech, he has also abjured sex--until he meets the oddly named Clara Bell. In flight from a perverse family in California, Clara is the essence of promiscuity--though paradoxically virginal, having developed an extreme form of mutual masturbation that delights her many male companions. She is as deliberately unintellectual as John is cerebral (her passion is antique quilts, in which she deals), but when they meet, and soon marry, they quite literally lose themselves in each other. The book takes place in the course of an evening and night Clara spends away on a mysterious errand. As John passionately awaits her return, he immerses himself in thoughts of her and later in her utterly frank diaries--and he has the strangest encounter with a Chinese-food delivery man. Landis brilliantly catches the two very distinct voices of John and Clara--he's an egghead; she's impulsive, pragmatic, funny--and the reader quickly becomes enmeshed in the dreamily concupiscent atmosphere of their partnership, in which audacious sexuality is the norm. There will be those who object to a scene that seems to have strayed in from Bret Easton Ellis, and the denouement is tricky rather than inevitable; but Lying in Bed exerts an almost hypnotic attraction and offers some genuine insights--discomforting, exultant, even comic--into the power of sex. 25,000 first printing; major ad/promo. (June)
Reviewed on: 01/09/1995
Release date: 01/01/1995
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