A Desert of Pure Feeling

A Desert of Pure Feeling

by Judith Freeman

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From the writer whose voice Carolyn See has characterized as one of the strangest, most distinguished in American fiction writing today ("There is really nothing to compare her with, except, maybe, the austere beauty of a Japanese rock garden"), here is a richly dramatic novel about a woman struggling to make peace with herself as a mother, a lover, an artist, and a


From the writer whose voice Carolyn See has characterized as one of the strangest, most distinguished in American fiction writing today ("There is really nothing to compare her with, except, maybe, the austere beauty of a Japanese rock garden"), here is a richly dramatic novel about a woman struggling to make peace with herself as a mother, a lover, an artist, and a friend.

Lucy Patterson has just encountered her past in the person of a man whom she has not seen for twenty-five years. Dr. Carlos Cabrera saved the life of her infant son, and it was her love for him that compelled her to end her marriage -- the first moment in an arc of emotional turbulence and upheaval that has since defined her existence. Her past having caught up with her, Lucy has come to an isolated motel in the desert outside Las Vegas to write out her life, reexamine it, and, she hopes, find its calm center. It's a journey she is determined to make alone, but in the next room is a young woman -- a single mother, stripper, and prostitute panicked about her own life -- whom Lucy finds she cannot, and finally does not want to, ignore. A fiercely odd pair, they nonetheless become indispensable to each other in navigating the emotional terrain of their past and in finding, separately and together, clear paths into the future.

A Desert of Pure Feeling is the finest work we have yet seen from a writer whose gifts, at once lyrical and tough-minded, become vividly apparent in this penetrating and compelling story.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Novelist Lucy Patterson, the 45-year-old narrator, tells us that once she wanted to write a huge historical narrative but that "the harder I tried to focus on my grand themes... the more personal were the events, the smaller the ideas, that overtook my imagination." It's an apt description of Freeman's effort here. The novel moves between the present, in which Lucy tells her story from the Las Vegas motel to which she has retreated in the wake of a traumatic disaster, and Lucy's past, mostly as it concerns Dr. Carlos Cabrera, a Guatemalan doctor who saved the life of Lucy's young son and with whom Lucy had a formative affair. When Carlos shows up, after all these years, aboard a cruise ship on which Lucy is traveling, they rekindle their affair. The disaster strikes after another passenger forces from Carlos a revelation about his youth in Nazi Germany. This in turn forces from Freeman some awkward and dramatically flat exposition about the tricky nature of moral judgment. Back in Vegas, Lucy is drawn closer-emotionally and erotically-to Joycelle, a vulnerable hooker and stripper. Freeman (Set for Life; Chinchilla Farm) would have done better to confine herself to a deeper juxtaposition of Lucy's two loves-the refined, sophisticated older Carlos and the vulgar, semiliterate younger Joycelle. Lucy's story is a moving, deliberate meditation on love that is at its best when simply mapping the interior lives of its characters. It falters when Freeman throws in Nazis, Mormons and Guatemalan terrorism, elements that provide a false, often melodramatic sense of scope to what is, in the end, a very intimate novel. (May)
Library Journal
When Lucy Patterson, a middle-aged, long-divorced fiction writer, was invited to fill in as writer-in-residence on a luxury cruise to Europe, she never expected to meet up with her former lover, Dr. Carlos Cabrera. Carlos was the surgeon who, many years earlier, had operated on the malformed heart of Lucy's young son and saved his life. Their affair led her to end her marriage and enter a new path in life. Now Lucy is trying to put things in perspective by writing about their encounter while holed up in a seedy Las Vegas motel, where she has befriended a surly young AIDS-infected prostitute in the neighboring room. Jumping between various time frames, the novel lurches somewhat breathlessly through revelations of the dark secrets of the past to a mildly happy, unexpected ending. A good addition to most libraries from the author of The Chinchilla Farm (LJ 6/15/89).Ann H. Fisher, Radford P.L., Va.
Kirkus Reviews
Freeman (Set for Life, 1991, etc.), seamlessly moving backward and forward in time, weaves together a series of episodes from her narrator's life in this careful, if sometimes overly serious, third novel.

The past, "a country of ghosts," haunts many of the walking wounded in this deeply felt tale of redemptive love. Lucy Patterson, a writer in flight from her Idaho farm and from too many painful memories, at a dead end with her fiction, accepts an offer to be a guest writer (all expenses paid, her only obligation to give one reading from her work) on an ocean liner bound for England. On the ship she encounters Dr. Carlos Cabrera, a renowned surgeon, who operated on her two-year-old son when Lucy herself was a 19-year-old mother. Already alienated from her Mormon husband, (Freeman herself was raised as a Mormon) the intense apostate began a doomed affair with the older, cosmopolitan married man. During the ocean voyage, they renew their 20-year-old liaison and join in mourning for their losses—including that of Lucy's son, presumed dead in Guatemala, where he had gone to proselytize for the Mormon church. It's not long before Lucy must deal with yet another loss when Carlos either jumps or falls overboard from the liner soon after his long-secret past as a member of the Hitler Youth is revealed. Rootless, uncertain, Lucy goes to Las Vegas, where she becomes involved with Joycelle, a young hooker who has just discovered that she's HIV-positive. Lucy takes the young girl back to her isolated ranch, where Joycelle finds a kind of peace and Lucy discovers a sense of redemption in their strange bond. Lucy's puritanical observations on such subjects as sex, alochol, Las Vegas, and cosmetic surgery sound wonderfully prim, but they also give her fictive voice strength and consistency.

The burdens of the past provide the narrative logic in this powerful fiction, another chapter in Freeman's unique literature of apostasy.

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
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Random House
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2 MB

Meet the Author

Judith Freeman is the author of Family Attractions, a collection of short stories, The Chinchilla Farm, and Set For Life. She lives in Challis, Idaho, and Los Angeles with her husband, photographer Anthony Hernandez. She reviews books regularly for the Los Angeles Times. Set For Life received the Western Heritage Award for Best Novel.

From the Hardcover edition.

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