cover image Illegal Liaisons

Illegal Liaisons

Grazyna Plebank, trans. from the Polish by Danusia Stok. New Europe (Random, dist.), $14.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-9850623-6-1

House husband and aspiring writer Jonathan is married to Magda, a.k.a Megi, and lives with her and their two small children in Brussels, where she has a well-paying government job. Jonathan is also in the middle of a torrid affair with Andrea, which he takes great pains to keep secret. Plebanek’s crisp and intelligent new novel is full of pitch-perfect descriptions, mostly but not exclusively about sex, and its contemplation. Jonathan sucks Andrea’s fingers “with the instinct of a newborn baby”; even a year into the relationship, “He eagerly awaited their trysts, like a believer awaiting Holy Communion.” Everything in the lives of these characters is observed, and judged. Jonathan kisses Megi but doesn’t like the taste of her lips. This observational bent continues even in the book’s most sexual moments; the reader is not immersed vicariously in the liaisons. They are explained exclusively through Jonathan. He discovers “new depths of erotic imagination” with Andrea, and indeed Plebank favors the erotic encounters over plot details, though Jonathan is finally tasked with choosing between the two women. A merciless comedy of modern manners, and the politics of desire. (Sept. 1)