“An artfully crafted story of two marriages . . . Very fine work.” Kirkus Reviews
“We can always count on David Leavitt to bring buried desires to the surface and give the uncertainties of an era startling clarity in his fiction. Here in his glorious new novel, with his characters on the run from war and suspended in a precarious state of exile, he traces their efforts to create meaningful lives amidst the turmoil surrounding them. The result is a book that is artful, gripping, delicate, and fierce.” Joanna Scott, Pulitzer Prize finalist and author of Follow Me
Leavitt’s (The Indian Clerk) new novel depicts a 1940 Lisbon overflowing with Axis spies and refugees fleeing France ahead of the impending German invasion, but this smart, well-crafted story is less wartime drama than a vivid depiction of husbands and wives under pressure. Expatriate Americans Pete and Julia Winters can’t stand each other–she hates Portugal and hates even more the thought of returning to the U.S. Pete, meanwhile, accepts that their marriage is just a vapor, without any substance. Edward and Iris Freleng, another American couple, are lazy mystery writers mired in their own debauchery. When these four people are thrown together, strange relationships develop as they wait to leave on the weekly ship to New York. They share drinks, meals, and much more, “too worried about what we were losing to care about those who were losing more.” One spouse is self-destructive, one is a manipulative sexual predator, a third is obsessive, and the fourth has a suppressed sense of moral purpose. And only two will leave Portugal. Leavitt’s clever, engaging tale of marriage’s hidden shadows, lies, and half-truths demonstrates that husbands and wives are only as happy as they’ve already decided to allow themselves to be. Agent: Jin Auh, Wylie Agency. (Oct.)
The main "characters" of this well-crafted and -researched novel are two couples who come to inhabit two hotels of almost identical name in 1940 Lisbon. The theme of expatriates trapped in a neutral city that might at any time fall under the yoke of Nazi Germany brings to mind the classic film Casablanca. Perhaps because our protagonists are not stateless individuals but Americans or Brits (one of whom is Jewish), the novel lacks the dramatic tension of the film, but the real story here is not the relation of the characters to their alien surroundings but to one another. Blessed with independent means, Edward and Iris Freleng and Pete and Julia Winters have all led a peripatetic existence when fate brings them together for a brief period in the Portuguese capital. As the days pass while they wait for a ship to take them to New York, the two men drift into an affair that for complex reasons is abetted by one of the wives, even as readers wonder whether the other wife has caught on. VERDICT Told from different perspectives, this multilayered tale intrigues with its twists and turns of plot and viewpoint. Leavitt's graceful depiction of same-sex romance will have universal appeal. Highly recommended for discriminating readers. [See Prepub Alert, 4/8/13.]—Edward Cone, New York
An artfully crafted story of two marriages from Leavitt (English: Univ. of Florida), whose credits include Family Dancing (1984) and The Indian Clerk (2007), both finalists for the PEN/Faulkner Award. The book is set in Lisbon, Portugal, among the refugees, after the outbreak of World War II. Pete and Julia Winters meet Iris and Edward Freleng, and their little dog, Daisy, when Edward steps on Pete's glasses. They are sitting outside the Café Suiça, a place packed with foreigners hoping to escape Europe. While the Winters and the Frelengs have this problem solved--they will travel on the SS Manhattan, an American ship commandeered for the purpose--they have their own problems, and little more than a week to live through them. The Winters have been living in Paris for 17 years. Julia is temperamental, high-strung; she has sworn never to return to New York. The Frelengs are independently wealthy, for many years itinerant; they have for some time been settled in the Gironde, passing the days writing Xavier Legrand mysteries. Edward is unstable; Iris is manipulative; Julia is brittle; and Pete, the narrator, is conflicted--a good man who does a bad thing for the right reasons. Along the way, there is an affair and a fatal tragedy. Very fine work.