Other Women

James Marcus reviews "Other Women" by Evelyn Lau.

Published May 30, 1996 7:00PM (EDT)

At age 25, the Canadian writer Evelyn Lau has already produced three collections of poetry and a memoir of her life as a teenage runaway. Now comes "Other Women," a first novel in which a young artist, Fiona, falls madly in love with a married man. For almost a year the two meet in an assortment of hotel rooms, and although Raymond is happy to mess around with his mistress and almost (but not quite) consummate their relationship, it's clear that he has no intention of leaving his wife. What does Fiona do? Why, she suffers -- and her suffering is the real subject of Lau's slender, intelligent book.

With Fiona's misery looming in the foreground, of course, there isn't much room for plot. Instead, most of the zing in "Other Women" comes from the prose, which almost always rescues Fiona's voice from the threat of comic bathos. There is, to be sure, a sprinkling of self-conscious poetry (". . .and her eyes are the color of amber from the Baltic Sea.") But for every such groaner, Lau compensates with entire passages of bell-clear perception, like this snapshot of Los Angeles life: "It is winter, but outside the house the day is a foggy blue fantasy of warmth, the air weighty and tropical, medicinal as eucalyptus. I lie in bed listening to the sound of police helicopters circling the sky, low and wide, searching for criminals." Her next book should be a treat, especially if the cast of characters expands beyond the protagonist and her all-too-significant other.

By James Marcus

James Marcus is a critic, translator and novelist living in Portland, Oregon. He is a regular contributor to Salon.

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