cover image Naked Sleeper

Naked Sleeper

Sigrid Nunez. HarperCollins Publishers, $23 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-06-017276-3

Nunez's first novel, A Feather on the Breath of God, was a work of stark insight and poetic imagination; her second displays the range of her talent, especially her sensitivity to the wellsprings of character and behavior. The story of a troubled woman's quest for identity, it is also a deft exploration of the randomness of fate, the crucial influence of time and place (where things happen, and when, determines responses that might be different under other circumstances) and the fragility of human relationships. An emotionally crippling event during childhood--her parents separated and she lost contact with her father, a painter whose reputation has grown since his early death--conditioned Nona's constricted response to life. Now, married to Roy, a voice teacher, and living in Greenwich Village, she has apparently silenced her demons. But when she attends a country retreat to work on the book she is writing about her father and is passionately wooed by Lyle, a married lothario whose true nature eludes her, Nona's emotional equilibrium is radically altered. Impulsively, she decides to join Lyle in Santa Fe to see if his love will help her discover her destiny. Nunez reveals Lyle's true character slowly, as Nona herself gradually discovers it and realizes the extent of her folly. Nona and Roy pay the price of her self-destructive behavior in several ways, but just as they seem reprieved from tragedy, they are struck by a bizarre--but sadly plausible--quirk of fate. Nunez exhibits impeccable control of her narrative, as she charts Nona's floundering steps toward self-understanding and maturity, meanwhile revealing the secrets of other lives that affect hers. This is a haunting story, resonant with hard-won wisdom. $30,000 ad/promo; rights: Harriet Wasserman. (Sept.)