cover image The Two Hotel Francforts

The Two Hotel Francforts

David Leavitt. Bloomsbury, $25 (272p) ISBN 978-1-59691-042-3

Leavitt’s (The Indian Clerk) new novel depicts a 1940 Lisbon overflowing with Axis spies and refugees fleeing France ahead of the impending German invasion, but this smart, well-crafted story is less wartime drama than a vivid depiction of husbands and wives under pressure. Expatriate Americans Pete and Julia Winters can’t stand each other–she hates Portugal and hates even more the thought of returning to the U.S. Pete, meanwhile, accepts that their marriage is just a vapor, without any substance. Edward and Iris Freleng, another American couple, are lazy mystery writers mired in their own debauchery. When these four people are thrown together, strange relationships develop as they wait to leave on the weekly ship to New York. They share drinks, meals, and much more, “too worried about what we were losing to care about those who were losing more.” One spouse is self-destructive, one is a manipulative sexual predator, a third is obsessive, and the fourth has a suppressed sense of moral purpose. And only two will leave Portugal. Leavitt’s clever, engaging tale of marriage’s hidden shadows, lies, and half-truths demonstrates that husbands and wives are only as happy as they’ve already decided to allow themselves to be. Agent: Jin Auh, Wylie Agency. (Oct.)