cover image Slander


Linda Le. University of Nebraska Press, $15.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-8032-7963-6

The two main characters of Le's fifth novel are, like the author, Vietnamese emigres living in France. A young woman learns that she is the result of her mother's brief affair with a foreign officer. Desperate for a family figure she can trust, she writes to her banished uncle, who has only just left the French mental hospital to which he was committed long ago for carrying on a love affair with his sister. And there the matter stays for most of the narrative, which jumps back and forth between the suspicious uncle and the confused niece as they separately review their past and present relationships. The uncle reflects on the venality and hypocrisy of a family accustomed to pandering to whomever is in power. The niece tries to navigate between the conflicting pieces of advice from a succession of paternalistic lovers. Le's intensity is the real thing and frequently darkly poetic (""She wants to be the heiress of my sorrows, the legatee of my vertigos""), but the novel only seems to go somewhere when minor characters appear: a love-struck shoe repairman; a fetishistic literary agent; a young prostitute. Alas, they come too late or too rarely to save the novel from being a self-absorbed, rather repetitive exercise in personal exorcism. (Nov.)