"Fear," By Simon Lane. Bridge Works. 184 pages. $21.95.
People don't change, asserts the title character in Simon Lane's light but pleasurable new novel. Yes, they do, says the woman he's sleeping with. They become better if they want to. But people who don't change always become worse.
Fear is one of those people who will only get worse. The signs are all around him. Fear is an itinerant poet, so of course he's broke, but it's even worse than that, because Fear isn't even writing poetry anymore. He owes money to half the people he sees on the Paris streets.
Simon Lane cuts back and forth between Fear's attempts to avoid hitting the financial wall and the erotic novel. The erotica goes reasonably well, except that one of the keys on Fear's typewriter is broken, so the hottest sex scenes are slightly ZTC undercut by the replacement of a vowel with a dollar sign. Novel within a novel works well.
Both Lane's novel and Fear's novel have an admirable sense of specific texture and geography. The pilot in the erotic novel has a Proustian moment in which he notices that the lush, floral wallpaper in the room where he has his assignations never breaks its pattern, even though it covers the ceiling as well as the walls.
"He asked himself how anyone could have wallpapered all four walls and ceiling without disrupting so much as a petal or a stem, and he resolved to prove that such a feat was illusory.
"Fear" is as much a Paris novel as it is a literary novel; it's not a story that would be as charming -- or believable -- if it took place in Cleveland or El Paso.
And Lane communicates a very French sense of languid passion, as with Gisele, who speaks near-perfect English until she has sex, when she lapses into French: "When it was over, she would start talking in English again, as if signaling a return to the real world, one in which sex ceased to be an abandonment and became instead an everyday occurrence, like a meal that had to be cleaned away afterward."
Pub Date: 5/03/98