The Life Room
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The Life Room

by Jill Bialosky
     
 

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Eleanor Cahn is a professor of literature, the wife of a successful surgeon, and a devoted mother. But on a trip to Paris to present a paper on Anna Karenina, Eleanor re-connects with Stephen—a childhood friend, and more. The encounter ignites a discontent that she struggles alternately to suppress and to explore, and reawakens memories of her hidden

Overview

Eleanor Cahn is a professor of literature, the wife of a successful surgeon, and a devoted mother. But on a trip to Paris to present a paper on Anna Karenina, Eleanor re-connects with Stephen—a childhood friend, and more. The encounter ignites a discontent that she struggles alternately to suppress and to explore, and reawakens memories of her hidden erotic past: with alluring, elusive Stephen; with ethereal William, her high school boyfriend; with married, egotistical Adam, the painter who initiated her into the intimacies of the "life room," where the artist’s model sometimes becomes muse; and with loyal, steady Michael, her husband. On her return to New York, Eleanor and Stephen’s charged attraction takes on a life of its own and threatens to destroy everything she has.

Jill Bialosky has created a fresh, piercingly real heroine caught, like Tolstoy’s immortal Anna Karenina, between desire and responsibility.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Bialosky falters in her maudlin second novel (after House Under Snow). An academic conference in Paris provides literature professor and New Yorker Eleanor Cahn the opportunity to escape from her humdrum husband and to stir up some long dormant passions. Along the way, the men of her past flood her memory: William Woods, Eleanor's confused and abused teenage boyfriend; Adam Weiss, a womanizing, married painter Eleanor posed for; and Stephen Mason, a childhood friend with whom she never quite connected. After the conference and back in New York, Eleanor agonizes over the life choices she's made and tries to find some balance between her longings and her responsibilities to her husband and children. Stephen re-enters her life, and the two conduct a tedious (and surprisingly nonphysical) affair. Through journal excerpts, e-mails and pictures, Bialosky tells a muddled tale burdened with hollow caricatures and overwrought dialogue. While Bialosky can produce intriguing turns of phrase (she has also published two poetry collections and is an editor at Norton), the novel remains largely unsatisfying. (Aug.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
From Bialosky (House Under Snow, 2002, etc.), an introspective novel about a middle-aged woman's dilemma of love and responsibility. Eleanor Cahn, married mother of two, visits Paris to present her paper on Anna Karenina, a novel whose themes of passion and morality set the stage for Eleanor's own story. Her relationship with her husband, a work-obsessed surgeon, is unfulfilling, and past lovers haunt her. As Eleanor turns inward for answers, the story line becomes increasingly convoluted, jumping back and forth in time. Flashbacks to Eleanor's first love, William, a married lover, Adam, and an emotionally unavailable father mix in a dream-like narrative that tells far more than it shows. In Paris, Eleanor's commiserating and flirting with colleagues is punctured by an encounter with Stephen, a rebellious former neighbor with whom she shares a history of unalleviated sexual tension. With so many relationships in the mix, fully developing all the men in Eleanor's life-as well as Eleanor herself-becomes impossible. When Stephen reappears in New York, Eleanor's angst increases exponentially as she struggles with her desire for him and the love and responsibility she feels for her family. Though the reader may try to connect with Eleanor, she is lost under a flood of impersonal existential questioning. To borrow a phrase from the novel, this is "all angst with no transformation."Fails to satisfy. Agent: Sarah Chalfant/Wylie Agency
Booklist

"Bialosky's brightly burning novel of desire and aberration, and a woman's quest for deeper understanding, is remarkable for its insights into erotic compulsion and the unbearable awkwardness and pain of flawed and failed love."
Los Angeles Times

"Like Michael Cunningham's The Hours echoing Mrs. Dalloway, Jill Bialosky's new novel has a literary ghost rattling around in its walls. Anna Karenina haunts The Life Room. Eleanor Cahn, a literature professor with a surgeon husband and two small sons, is torn in too many directions ... Instead of a single Vronsky, Eleanor faces several. Her resolute self-destruction, with love the prime weapon, gives this novel the feel of an oncoming train."
Colum McCann

"What's most extraordinary about The Life Room is its unabashed honesty. In a novel that is daring and form-shifting and challenging in all the very best ways, Jill Bialosky still manages to keep it true to course. There is a texture in every sentence, but most importantly you emerge from the novel feeling as you have met a life that has glanced against your own, and gratefully your world has been shifted. A lovely, genuine, deep work of art."
Dani Shapiro

"In her exquisite, carefully observed exploration of a modern woman's inner life, Jill Bialosky has written a novel that poses an essential question: how do we reconcile our passions--love, work, erotic life, children? The Life Room is an elegant, daring book, driven by internal suspense."
Howard Norman

"The Life Room is patient in its investigations of love and erotically charged. By the end of this story, readers will be convinced that Eleanor Cahn knows more about Anna Karenina, let alone the inventive despair of the human heart, than anyone they are likely to have met in literature in a very, very long time. This is a stunningly honest and generous and finely crafted novel."
Martha McPhee

"Jill Bialosky pierces the heart here until the reader feels just exactly what it means to have it all--husband, children, success--and yet to be achingly alone, longing for passion, of the kind Anna Karenina sacrificed everything for. Through Bialosky’s elegant prose and tremendous talents as a storyteller, desire reverberates across the pages to meet the reader’s own."
From the Publisher

ADVANCE PRAISE FOR THE LIFE ROOM

"Jill Bialosky pierces the heart here until the reader feels just exactly what it means to have it all—husband, children, success—and yet to be achingly alone, longing for passion, of the kind Anna Karenina sacrificed everything for. Through Bialosky’s elegant prose and tremendous talents as a storyteller, desire reverberates across the pages to meet the reader’s own."— MARTHA McPHEE

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780156034326
Publisher:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
11/03/2008
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
352
Sales rank:
1,150,942
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Life Room


By Bialosky, Jill

Harcourt

Copyright © 2007 Bialosky, Jill
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780151010479

1
She had been born with different colored eyes. One blue and the other green. When she looked at herself in the mirror, she felt as if she were split down the center, divided, as if one part of her were competing with the other. She had heard that if a person has dissimilar eyes at birth, it is quite possible that the two eyes were subjected to different pressures within the womb.
 
           Tonight she felt as if her blue eye was telling her to go to Paris and her green eye was telling her not to go. She had
just been invited to give a paper on Tolstoy at an international conference on world literature at the Sorbonne and, of course, she had to go; it was an honor, something she had long hoped for. She loved the exhilaration that followed after presenting a paper. She imagined herself walking through the Parisian city streets and sitting in cafés, hearing stimulating lectures by academics she admired. She imagined she’d find both the quiet time and the inspiration she needed to begin turning the paper she had written on Anna Karenina into a full-length study. The thought of going filled her with guilty pleasure. But she did not want to think about leaving her family behind. She could not bear being separated from them. She knew it was irrational, yet she often experienced feelings that on one level seemed irrational and on another feltperfectly reasonable. Now she was in bed, glad that Michael had drifted off. She hadn’t told him yet about Paris, not because she chose to keep secrets. She only wanted to keep her trip to herself for as long as possible, to revel in her accomplishment privately. She didn’t want her own thoughts to escape before she’d had a chance to digest them. 
 
Eleanor listened to the creaks in the wood, the bang of the radiator. The boys were sound asleep in the room across the hall from them, and Michael was breathing in lightly, making a whistling sound through his nose. Suddenly, Eleanor was so frightened by the thought of leaving them that she couldn’t move. She said to herself, It’s okay. Nothing is going to happen to the boys or Michael if you go away. They’ll be here waiting. Go see your boys. She rose from the bed and moved into the room where the boys slept and slipped in next to Noah, the youngest, and held him. She fell asleep again, and when she awoke it was dawn. She crept down the drafty hall, folded her body underneath the sheet in the bed next to her husband, and fell back to sleep.
 
           First it was Noah she heard rustle in the bed across the hall, the patter of his bare feet on the wood as he turned the corner to the bathroom, the creak of the toilet seat lifting—he remembered this time. She heard his small feet running back into his bedroom. Light began to filter through her open window, and the morning released its crisp smell into the air. It was the weekend, and time had slowed down just a morsel, so that she could feel everything around her more intensely. She watched the light slowly strengthen in the room, the colors of the walls shimmering. Soon she heard Noah and Nicholas. They were whispering in their beds, no doubt hatching a plan. 
           Michael was turned into the corner of the antique bed, the sheets reaching across his broad shoulders. She felt his hand reach across her middle. It was warm and she allowed him to pull her against him. She had awoken to his particular smell for over twelve years. And each morning she took it in newly, never tiring of the comfort and warmth of his body beside her. She nestled her head into the back of his neck. He wasn’t quite awake, and it was in this half-conscious state that he always wanted to hold her first, as if he needed her body to rouse him before he took in any more of the world. This desire to see life through her eyes was what she found so endearing about him from the first day they met. She remembered how he had wanted to share every minute with her, so that going to the store to shop for dinner was an adventure. He took her by the hand through the aisles to the most secluded spot in the store where he could embrace her, until they felt an urgent desire to return to either her studio apartment or his. It did not matter whether they had much in common to talk about. She was in awe of all the ways in which he was different from her, so that together they seemed to make a neat package of contradictions.
 
           If only she could hold this moment of reflection longer and stop time from moving forward. She was already aware of how quickly the morning would be consumed by the obligations that awaited her, but when the boys flew into the room, bounding on top of the bed with their plastic swords and reenacting a duel from Star Wars, she laughed. Michael continued to feign sleep while they poked him with their swords, then came to life in a roar. The boys came tumbling down on top of them, forcing Eleanor and Michael to make room for them.

Copyright © 2007 by Jill Bialosky
 
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
 
Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be submitted online at www.harcourt.com/contact or mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

Continues...

Excerpted from The Life Room by Bialosky, Jill Copyright © 2007 by Bialosky, Jill. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author


JILL BIALOSKY is the author of the acclaimed novel House Under Snow and two collections of poetry, The End of Desire and Subterranean. Her poems and essays have appeared in the New Yorker and O, The Oprah Magazine. She is an editor at W. W. Norton & Company and lives in New York City.

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