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Motion Sickness

Motion Sickness

4.0 1
by Lynne Tillman, David Ulin (Introduction)

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For the narrator of Motion Sickness, life is an unguided tour, populated with hotels, art, strangers, books, and movies. Adrift in Europe in the late 1980s, she improvises a life and a self. In London, she’s befriended by an expatriate American Buddhist and her mysterious husband, who may be following her. In Paris, she discovers Arlette, an art


For the narrator of Motion Sickness, life is an unguided tour, populated with hotels, art, strangers, books, and movies. Adrift in Europe in the late 1980s, she improvises a life and a self. In London, she’s befriended by an expatriate American Buddhist and her mysterious husband, who may be following her. In Paris, she discovers Arlette, an art historian obsessed with Velazquez's painting “Las Meninas.” In Barcelona, she is befriended by two generations of Germans, pre- and post-World War 2. She tours the hill towns of Italy, in a London taxi, with two surprising Englishmen, brothers in pursuit of art and Henry Moore. And everywhere she goes she collects postcards.

Editorial Reviews

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Praise for Motion Sickness

“A close reading [of Tillman] yields just how much her characters do want to connect, while preserving the right to their own process of intellection, the life of the mind. Haunted Houses, Motion Sickness and Absence Makes the Heart are nothing if not testaments to the belief that presenting the quality of one's mind in public is a means of connecting to others beside the self. In scenes of degradation, annihilation or joy, she contends with the idea that one's thoughts and gestures, while seemingly at odds, are married... attempts to accept the other not as a mirror but as a self." — Hilton Als, Voice Literary Supplement, Best Books of 1991

“Literature is a quirky thing and just when you start to believe it actually has been used up, along comes a writer, Lynne Tillman, whose work is so striking and original it transforms the way you see the world, the way you think about and interact with your surroundings....” — Los Angeles Reader

“A firsthand account of one woman's European journey and a riveting investigation of the troublesome notion of ‘national identity,’ Motion Sickness has true intellectual originality, a gorgeously sly dry irony, and a rich cast of thinkers and drinkers and eccentrics and hoods.” — Patrick McGrath

“This is Jack Kerouac's On the Road rewritten by the opposite sex in the form of vignettes of far-flung places and implausible encounters… Impressions, associations, and bits of conversation jotted during lulls in a mostly manic itinerary, coalesce into a densely descriptive narrative. The result is a keen portrayal of the postmodern world&hellip." — Ginger Danto, Entertainment Weekly

“This is Jack Kerouac's On the Road rewritten by the opposite sex ” — Entertainment Weekly

"An intense and personal narrative. People and events are approached obliquely and never fully explained, as if we might know them already. This lean book is a welcome change after the baroque excesses of much contemporary fiction. Recommended for sophisticated readers." — Library Journal

“Lynne Tillman’s Motion Sickness helped change my conception of what a novel could be… Riotously funny." — Robert Marshall

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The nameless narrator of Tillman's second novel (after Haunted Houses ) is a young American traveling through Europe--from Istanbul to London to Amsterdam to Crete to Paris and back again. She lives in the travelers' void where identities are amorphous and friendships fleeting and often explosive. Her stream-of-consciousness non-record of her trips (since she writes only postcards, which are often not sent) reveals only indirect clues about her. Instead we hear her experiences and reflections, and meet her travel buddies: Jessica, an American whose English husband has left her; the English brothers Alfred and Paul; ex-New York City policeman Sal; and Clara, an older German lesbian living in Barcelona. Our tour guide's father has died recently, the probable cause of what at times seems a search, at other times, a running away. Her locales change seemingly on whims and her narrative follows in the same vein--if something reminds her of London, that's the next remembrance. Everything we hear is filtered through her mind: ``One remembers even the recent past so imperfectly and so much in relation to oneself that every object is skewered upon one's own identity, like a kind of shish kebab.'' She's living in a world of very little structure, which is successfully--almost too well--reflected in writing that, although often lyrical and at times poetic, also lacks a focus. The result produces a frustrated reader, detached from a distant narrator who won't reveal herself--or let us empathize. (Apr.)
Library Journal
By the author of Haunted Houses (LJ 3/1/87), this novel is a loose chronicle of a single woman's months of wandering in the cities of contemporary Europe. The unnamed American protagonist is vaguely bohemian, although her past life is nebulous. She collects hundreds of postcards on her trip, ``which she often writes on but may not always send.'' The book itself is like these cards: a series of scenes, ordered by their relationships to each other rather than chronologically. Filmmaker Tillman focuses on the process of the trip rather than on any destination, giving us an intense and personal narrative. People and events are approached obliquely and never fully explained, as if we might know them already. This lean book is a welcome change after the baroque excesses of much contemporary fiction. Recommended for sophisticated readers. Literary Guild alternate.-- Gwen Gregory, U . S . Courts Lib., Phoenix

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6.20(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.60(d)

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Read an Excerpt

There's a message at the desk which Pradip hands me absentmindedly. He's got headphones on. The small stud in his left ear is a new addition: He's reading an Indian movie magazine which his cousin brought back from New Delhi. He's laughing. I tell him I like fanzines. This one's mad, he says, really mad. I can borrow it when he's through. The message is from Alfred and Paul, They want to see a movie tomorrow night, at least Paul does, after dinner.

No one's ever in the hallway down below. People are in or out. I'd like to watch them spring from their rooms simultaneously. I never see any of them, or hardly ever hear telltale noises. No arguments. No grunts. No farts. I don't go to breakfast anymore. The chambermaid has been here, I see traces of her neatening touch. I jump on the bed and rustle the spread. I don't like tidy rooms. They reek of isolation. Neat beds, coffins and death. I'm glad I'm not married to my associations or forced to announce them in public. I might be set in stocks for them, socially humiliated. Maybe I am married to my associations and can never get a divorce. Jessica tells me that one of the worst things that can happen to an English person is to be embarrassed. It means something else here, she says. We can't possibly understand it.

In another world bloodhounds might be trained to sniff out humiliating episodes, devastating scenes. Or maybe that's how analysts are seen. This sniffing-?out-?the-?married-?man business that I ought to have done, according to Sarah, if I'd had the nose for it. With the machine called the simulator, Zoran would've been revealed in no time. Some police departments in the States use the simulator. It's a computer that shows movies and slides of crimes about to happen. The viewer, a cop, is hooked up to the machine and to a heart monitor which measures the cop's responses. As the cop's pulse rate goes up, the slides, chosen by the computer from a bank of images, display more threatening scenes. The pulse goes up. The heart doesn't lie. It can't be controlled. What you think you should feel is different from what you do feel.
It's in your body. The enemy within. The racist. The sexist. The bully. The selfish baby. Greedy miserable feelings can't be hidden or contained.The reporter Fowler says of his loss of the Vietnamese woman to the quiet American: "It was as though she were being taken away from me by a nation rather than by a man.”

I can't ask Alfred or Paul about embarrassment, though I'd like to. I might just wait until one of them is embarrassed. But how could I tell? If embarrassment is such an awful experience, their defenses must be powerful and subtle and I would never be able to discern telltale marks that another English person could easily recognize. Alfred hems and haws through dinner. Maybe I have embarrassed him. Or perhaps I ought to be embarrassed by something I've done. Something I will never understand. Finally, after three glasses of wine, I ask Alfred, What embarrasses you most? His cheeks blush pink. Paul clears his throat and answers for him, Direct questions.

Alfred leaves us without saying where he's going, just saunters vaguely into the night. To his girlfriend's fat, I suppose. Paul and I are going to see a revival of A Place in the Sun, with Monty and Liz. I don't know if I've ever seen it except on TV.
Paul is delighted to view it with an American. It's based, he tells me, on Dreiser's An American Tragedy. l could tell him that I've read the novel. That might embarrass him. Instead I bear up under the weight of being a native informant.
There's an amazing shot in the movie, when the boss's poor relation, Monty Clift, is seducing the poor factory worker, Shelley Winters.
The radio is on the windowsill, romantic music's playing. Shelley and Monty are inside her dreary bedroom. Outside, the camera moves slowly, sinuously, along the bushes, rustling the leaves, heading toward the house and the open window.
Behind the open window are Shelley and Monty. The camera settles on the radio which sits on the windowsill. The tune's poignant, melancholy, the soundtrack for a still and hot night. Shelley is being undone by Monty, factory worker seduced by factory owner's poor relation. The tragedy is set in motion and all will be lost.
Paul compares that camera movement, full of longing and prohibited desire, with what we both agree is the single most disturbing shot in movies. In Hitchcock's Frenzy the camera backs down the stairs in one continuous movement as the pervert is about to torture and kill yet another woman behind a closed door. The camera tracks down the stairs, pulling away from the closed door, out the front door, into the street, to reveal Covent Garden—when it was still a fruit and vegetable market—in all its ordinariness. A woman is being raped and murdered. The camera keeps moving back until the murderous space disappears into daily life. Paul and I walk to the tube. The train lurches forward more quietly than subways taking off in New York. I keep thinking about the camera moving toward the window, evoking longing, and tracking away from the door, evincing horror.
Sylvie running down the stairs after learning that Sal was murdered, the camera pulling back until she's out of sight.

Out of sight and out of mind. It's funny about longing. Or how longing and horror sometimes meet inside oneself, in a private Dracula. Vampirish need. When longing's absent, when I feel no specific desire for anything, anything I can name, I vacillate, feel determined, content or empty. With it inside me, a clenched baby's fist below my heart, probably in the neighborhood of the solar plexus, uneasiness surges through my body and I'm not sure where to look, what to eat, what to do. Alfred appeals to me. And fills me with a sort of low-?key horror. Since he has a girlfriend, and has had for months, maybe even since before we were in the hill towns, I'm assured that he can do it, but he's unavailable. I might like to lead him astray. Or be led astray. Hideous, ungracious longing. It would be better and more simple to push down treacherous desire, like swallowing poison or the awful truth. If Alfred were in front of me, I might permit myself a betrayal, my hand might touch the back of his neck, or I might permit myself a betrayal that would go no further than one thought traveling to another. Visitors can do that with impunity.

Meet the Author

Lynne Tillman (New York, NY) is the author of five novels, three collections of short stories, one collection of essays and two other nonfiction books. She collaborates often with artists and writes regularly on culture, and her fiction is anthologized widely. Her last collection of short stories, This Is Not It, included 23 stories based on the work of 22 contemporary artists. Her novels include American Genius, A Comedy (2006), No Lease on Life (1998) which was a New York Times Notable Book of 1998 and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, Cast in Doubt (1992), Motion Sickness (1991), and Haunted Houses (1987). The Broad Picture (1997) collected Tillman’s essays, which were published in literary and art periodicals. She is the Fiction Editor at Fence Magazine, Professor and Writer-in-Residence in the Department of English at the University at Albany, and a recent recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship.

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Motion Sickness 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this week. Although not chronological, I found it interesting and easy to read. I had been to some of the places she talks to about, and enjoyed her take on them. Also, although an odd character, I found the narrator honest and likable. I would read more books by Lynn Tillman.