Sunday, April 15, 2018

Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday

One of the best debut novels I've read in a long time. I put down the book I was reading with my kids (David Benioff's City of Thieves), the book I was reading with my book group (Meg Wolitzer's The Female Persuasion) and the one I was reading for fun (Colum McCann's Thirteen Ways of Looking) and read this almost nonstop instead after one of my New Jersey students recommended it. The author, Lisa Halliday, had a romantic relationship with Phillip Roth during the Nineties. The first third of the novel is a thinly-veiled description of a very young editor's relationship with a much older famous author, here known as Ezra Blazer. If you ever wanted to know how it feels to date slightly demanding, funny, generous and prize-winnning writer who'd old enough to be your grandfather, read this. He buys her a fancy coat at Searle, pays off her student loans, takes her to his farmhouse up in Connecticut (but doesn't pick her up at the train) and asks her to make drugstore and Haagen Dazs runs for him. He applauds her skills in bed. Some of the early part of the novel is reminiscent of Joyce Maynard's wonderful memoir At Home in the World, in which Maynard details her romance with writer JD Salinger, who was also old enough to be her grandfather when he seduced her. The second third of Halliday's novel is about an Iranian-American economist who is detained in the London airport. In the last third, Halliday skillfully pulls both stories  together.  

In an interview with The New York Times, Halliday said she followed the advice of her friend, the writer Louise Erdrich: “She said, ‘write as though you’re writing in secret, as though no one will actually read it.'” This is fabulous advice. 

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