The New York Times Book Review
Layoverby Lisa Zeidner, Random House Inc.
Claire Newbold is not your typical heroine. Smart and sexy, yes, but she's also been known to sneak into a hotel room or two without paying, seduce a teenager in wet bathing trunks, and just check out of things altogetherlike her job. And her marriage. No wonder, though. Claire's been careening off heartbreak. Her only child has died, she may be infertile,… See more details below
Claire Newbold is not your typical heroine. Smart and sexy, yes, but she's also been known to sneak into a hotel room or two without paying, seduce a teenager in wet bathing trunks, and just check out of things altogetherlike her job. And her marriage. No wonder, though. Claire's been careening off heartbreak. Her only child has died, she may be infertile, and her husband has had an affair.
No longer a mother, not sure she wants to be a wife, Claire moves from hotel to hotel, basking in the anonymity of travel and forbidden sex. She even comes to believe she is clairvoyant, able to "read" into the souls of others. Eventually she begins to see into her own soul as she ponders whether or not to return home. As she struggles to repair her marriage and her life, Claire surprises herself and us by emerging with a new sense of redemption.
The New York Times Book Review
There are countless ways to check out of your everyday life, and Claire Newbold comes up with a fascinating one in Lisa Zeidner's compelling new novel, Layover. Claire is still numb from the death of her young son several years earlier, and her busy, affluent suburban life feels drained of meaning. When her husband confesses a brief affair she's primed to do something drastic. She's on the road a lot anyway for her job selling medical equipment, and she finds herself sneaking into hotel rooms without checking in, crawling into the spaces of the familiar business traveler's routine. "No one would ever suspect me of fraud," she says the first time, "though I know enough about the rhythms of that hotel, the staff's frenzies and downtimes, the secret pockets, to take advantage."
In the netherworld of small-city chain hotels, Claire swims laps, orders from room service, sleeps at odd hours. Hers is an intriguing alienation: Rather than seeing other people as strange and unknowable, she enters a state of heightened awareness in which she can quickly sum up -- and dismiss -- anyone she comes into contact with. "In a flash I could tell who loved their wives, who loved their work. Who had gotten laid, who had just spent huge sums of company money in lieu of getting laid. Who was smart as a fox, who dumb as dirt. Who was lonely, empty, afraid." Zeidner has a keen ear for the wired rhythms of modern life, and she creates a sped-up, fed-up voice for Claire that's also quite poignant. Claire is at once knowing and willing to be unguarded, and we enter her inner world with an easy, exhilarating intimacy.
When Claire is caught at her game in one of her usual hotels, she checks into the Four Seasons in Philadelphia. There, she shifts into an even more provocative mode, nearing a nervous collapse as she sets about reassembling her emotional life. She starts by concocting a hilarious hatchet-job portrayal of her husband's lover and the lover's husband, a poet (Zeidner has published two books of poetry as well as three other novels, and she has some wicked fun with this shadow character, even giving us a couple of his poems for Claire to take apart mercilessly). Perhaps unsurprisingly, her recovery begins in earnest only when she sets out to explore some new sexual territory of her own.
Zeidner has created an exemplary middle-aged heroine, wised up to life's ridiculousness but still, in the end, capable of experiencing its blessings. "My pleasure felt distinctly intelligent," Claire says of one sexual episode, and the line captures something of the experience of reading the novel. Layover may lean too hard on some stock components of female loss-and-redemption narratives -- inconsolable grief over the death of a child; the big, strong husband swooping in in the nick of time -- but it never veers toward sentimentality. Instead, Zeidner lets the emotion break through Claire's defenses with a subtle, intelligent throb.
"If anyone ever called for the phrase 'too smart for her own good,' it would seem to be the heroine of Lisa Zeidner's mordant, often terrifyingly funny, new novel. Claire Newbold is unraveling, but she doesn't drop a single witty stitch of observation, metaphor, and judgment--about anything. Too smart for her own good? Maybe, maybe not. She's definitely not too smart for ours. Layover is a nervy, racehorse performance."
"Lisa Zeidner's rare gift is her ability to balance sharp contemporary reportage with a timeless understanding of the heart. Layover lays bare the profound relationship between sex and hope. And as a lovely bonus to its wisdom and grace of language, it's as much fun to read as having all your travel and accommodations upgraded to first class."
Read an Excerpt
I packed for homelessness the way I would pack for a week in Europe-wrinkle-free, in a carry-on. Traveling light is easy in summer. Everything I owned that year seemed to be beige or gray, the palette of Roman tombstones, and airy enough to dry in a breeze, or by fan in a windowless hotel bathroom. The homeless people in cities pushing shopping carts, with their splayfooted, third-trimester walks: I saw no need to be manacled to my past, weighed down by it, when I had so little left. I floated away with no regrets. By then I was a ghost in my own life anyway.
I had no plan. The first time, I simply missed a flight. I'd been traveling for business, and had taken to packing a bathing suit for hotel pools in Scranton, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia. On weekdays, midmorning, the dollhouse-sized pools were always empty, like sets from moody foreign films. No flirting, no kids. I tried to do enough laps to lose count.
People kept telling me to take advantage of the gyms. Even the hotel clerks praised the equipment, always confidential and leering, as if sharing the address of the local S and M joint. I knew exactly the kind of men I could find bench-pressing there, but I didn't want to socialize with them or with anyone else. I just wanted the freedom not to think. The chlorine felt soothingly medicinal. And one day I swam too long, missed a plane.
Only when I was back in my room, in the shower, did I wonder about the time, but I didn't rush. Even when I saw that it was too late to get to the airport, I didn't panic. My trajectory was infinitely adjustable.
This is not the attitude I had been encouraged to cultivate in sales. But forsome time I had been silently recalibrating my attitude toward my job. My "career" was old enough, rooted enough, to be allowed to grow or not on its own, as my child would have done if my child hadn't died. I was not less involved with work because my child died, though that's what everyone thought-I felt their edgy tolerance, their benevolence and the predictable backlash from their benevolence, their confidence that they were cutting me some slack even when I was performing perfectly well.
So now I told no one who didn't already know. There wasn't anything to say, unless I wanted to discuss theology with strangers in airport lounges, meditate on whether one could find meaning in the statistics of highway fatalities, and I wanted to do this so little that when forced to discuss family status, I lied: I had a grown son in college, and was suffering from a mild case of empty-nest syndrome.
He was at Brown. He didn't know his major yet. If pressed, I would add that he played tennis. If I'd had children at the old-fashioned time, right out of college myself, my son would have been college-aged.
Nothing was repressed. My husband, Kenneth, and I hadclocked in the requisite hours in therapy, singly and collectively Icupping the coal of grief in burned hands, fanning our grief as itturned to ash. The therapist was a tall man with very bad vision. Icould barely see his eyes through his glasses, and their magnified,amniotic softness was oddly comforting. I thought of him, sometimes, while swimming. I could still summon forth his number on my laptop, and had been told I could call him whenever I needed to talk.
But at the time, I felt fine. I called the airline, changed the flight. Still numbly tingling from swim and shower, I lay down, fell asleep.
In retrospect, I understand that my bodily clock must have already been off, the battery low or spring overwound. Since there was no reason to hurry back, to snatch a child from day care, I'd revised how I set up appointments---eliminated some return trips so I could go straight from city to city, make my days less crammed. Avoid airport rushes. Swim in the morning and nap until checkout time, or not even sleep but just drift, waiting to be hungry enough for lunch.
That day, however, I slept past checkout. The maid came in her white uniform, like a nurse. Waking, I took the hotel room for a hospital room, cringed from her tray full of hypodermics and ministrations.
I knew Ignatia from three years of business in that city, that hotel. She knew about my son. We'd actually had a scene-this was earlier, when I would still confess, because I still cried unexpectedly-when I told her about the accident and she held me, smelling of gardenia and ammonia. Then pulled out a snapshot of her grandchildren, identifying each by name and age, which I thought was interesting. Most people will try so hard not to mention their own families, and you can feel their pride to be so restrained in the face of your bad luck, but she seemed to feel it would help me to witness her abundance. "What was boy's name?" she asked. I told her. She repeated it, smiled, and never mentioned him to me again. But she was always cheerful.
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