John L'Heureux is a consummate stylist and entertainer, and in A Woman Run Mad he delivers a novel that is part comedy of manners and part psychosexual thriller. Blocked writer, accidental scholar, inattentive husband, all J. J. Quinn wants is peace, and he has gone to buy his wife an expensive handbag to accomplish it. As the bag in question walks out the door under the arm of a beautiful, aristocratic shoplifter, though, Quinn's curiosity leads him deep into mystery and danger. The shoplifter is Sarah Slade, a...
John L'Heureux is a consummate stylist and entertainer, and in A Woman Run Mad he delivers a novel that is part comedy of manners and part psychosexual thriller. Blocked writer, accidental scholar, inattentive husband, all J. J. Quinn wants is peace, and he has gone to buy his wife an expensive handbag to accomplish it. As the bag in question walks out the door under the arm of a beautiful, aristocratic shoplifter, though, Quinn's curiosity leads him deep into mystery and danger. The shoplifter is Sarah Slade, a Boston Brahmin attempting to ditch a past as bloody as Medea's. Compared to Quinn's hypercompetent, Euripides-scholar wife, Claire, the unhinged Sarah is an alluring breath of fresh air -- but, of course, Quinn has no idea of the Pandora's box he's opened. Acclaimed by Newsweek as "witty and literate . . . Grand Guignol for grown-ups," A Woman Run Mad is an unsettling, deeply satisfying novel. "Remind[s] one of Iris Murdoch, or Muriel Spark, or E. M. Forster. Yet A Woman Run Mad is unlike any novel I know . . . unusual intelligence and personality are alive throughout the book." -- Richard P. Brickner, The New York Times Book Review; "Unless you have no interest in passions, the edge of madness, forbidden obsessions, runaway libidos and dangerous desires, A Woman Run Mad will fascinate you, from its title to its perfect final sentence. . . . A thinking man's Fatal Attraction." -- Chicago Sun-Times; "Normality -- as our time understands the word -- and monstrosity are L'Heureux's poles, and he joins them with extraordinary dexterity. . . . The ending is not to be revealed." -- Los Angeles Times Book Review; "A superior suspense story . . . It is the kind of story that might well have appealed to a writer like Patricia Highsmith, a drama of interlocking obsessions." -- The New York Times.
Less accomplished than one would expect from the publisher's advance ballyhoo, but leading up to a boffo ending, L'Heureux's (Desires) new novel titillates and titillatesand finally delivers. The major flaw is a cast of superficial, unappealing characters, each eccentric and self-involved, but bound together in a weave of coincidental meetings and relationships and further linked by an omnipresent, ugly, little boy. Feckless, self-exculpating J. J. Quinn is a bitter man: a failed novelist, he has just been denied tenure at Williams. Even more galling, his supportive, super efficient, tenured wife Claire is teaching a summer term at Dartmouth while Quinn is supposedly working on his novel in Boston. But Quinn is obsessed with Brahmin Sarah Slade, whom he spots shoplifting in Bonwit's and follows home to Louisburg Square. There he encounters her bodyguard, Angelo Tallino, a flagrant homosexual who reads existentialist authors and sleeps with Sarah's brother, president of the family firm. A decade earlier, Sarah had murdered and castrated her lover, had been found mad, and now is functionally dependent on her psychiatrist. When Claire discovers Quinn and Sarah's affair, she begins a campaign to win Quinn backand from this point the novel escalates in irony and tension. Often pretentious (quotes from Kierkegaard, snippets of Latin) the book is part thriller, part social comedy, part psychological suspense novel; and if L'Heureux has sacrificed credibility, he has come up with a surefire movie scenario. 35,000 first printing; major ad/promo; Literary Guild alternate. (January )
This tight psychosexual thriller revolves around two women ``run mad'': controlled, precise Classics professor Claire and her husband's new object of passion, Sarah, former Boston debutante with a violent secret in her past and precarious mental health. Husband Quinn is a struggling writer, now fired from his college teaching post, and he is surprised by his obsession with Sarah, although he feels liberated by their somewhat kinky affair. The build-up of tension is steadily paced and psychologically convincing; the characters, including some memorable minor players, are well defined and sympathetic. This should do very well in contemporary fiction collections. Ann H. Fisher, Radford P.L., Radford, Va.
In novels such as The Handmaid of Desire and A Woman Run Mad, John L'Heureux brings us the vagaries of middle age, marriage, academia, and religion with a blend of memorable characterizations and twisting plots.
John L'Heureux's characters are generally people in uncomfortable spots that tend to get infinitely less comfortable as the action goes on. In Having Everything, the title describes the middle-aged psychiatrist at its center. Technically, he does have everything: a prestigious Harvard teaching position, a beautiful wife, and two great kids. Trouble is, Philip Tate's beautiful wife is addicted to booze and pills, and Tate discovers new, self-destructive urges in himself that range from breaking and entering to infidelity with an equally screwed-up woman.
In An Honorable Profession, a popular high school English teacher whose personal life is a bit of a mess becomes even more troubled when a young student grows close to him and he finds himself destroyed by accusations of impropriety. L'Heureux revels in thorny issues, whether it's a marriage that's falling apart (quite devastatingly in The Shrine at Altamira) or a priest's decision whether or not to remain with the church (in 2002's The Miracle) -- a decision that L'Heureux himself faced when he ultimately decided to end his vocation as a Jesuit priest in 1971.
In his other, more farcical novels such as the academic satire The Handmaid of Desire and the comedy-thriller A Woman Run Mad, L'Heureux reveals his skill at creating a stable of nutty characters and bouncing them off one another. He is occasionally accused of being anachronistic: The New York Times said of The Handmaid of Desire, "Perhaps the time has passed when academic satire can be carried off successfully," and Salon accused Having Everything of being "so prim that it seems to belong to another time altogether." But if L'Heureux's themes aren't always new, his readers appreciate the funny and poignant twists he brings to them.
Good To Know
Joan Polston L'Heureux has been the dedicatee of all of her husband's books since their marriage in 1971.
L'Heureux is a former Jesuit priest who left the order in 1971.
L'Heureux (pronounced Ler-ruh) has taught fiction writing and literature at Stanford University since 1973.
He is also the author of four volumes of poetry, which have gone out print; and a memoir, Picnic in Babylon: A Priest's Journal, also out of print.