Love Bomb/Lisa Zeidner: Reflections

Monday, August 20, 2012

Lisa Zeidner's intelligence precedes her.  You hear talk about it, you read it in her books, you see it in her brilliantly crafted reviews for the Times, Slate, GQ, and then, one day, you meet her.  She'll be surrounded by students, most likely, on the Rutgers University campus in Camden, where she directs the M.F.A. program in creative writing. She'll be goading, and at the same time loving.  She'll be flabbergastingly quick on her feet.  She'll be defending the campus from New Jersey politics, if that's what's required at that hour, and talking about film, Italy, new books, and old, all at the same time.  And she'll make you feel right at home.

I don't actually remember when I first met Lisa, nor can I accurately count how many times I've joined her on her campus to read from a recently published book or to teach memoir or to discuss the current standing of young adult literature, and young adults.  It's true, I have to cross a bridge to do it, and I have to drive the Schuylkill in rush hour.  But that's the kind of thing I'll do for Lisa—the kind of thing many of us do to share in her company for a while.

(Don't give me grief about my driving, Lisa.  Don't.  You.)

For the past many years Lisa, already the author of four novels and two collections of poems, has been at work on a new novel—a lacerating satire, a comedy of non-manners, a pointed commentary on the colossal ambitions and personal jitters of the very people (mental health professionals) who are supposed to save others.  Called Love Bomb, it is a hostage story that unfolds at a bride's family home on her wedding day.  Tess may be ready to tie the knot, but another bride, this one more demanding, has shown up, too, bearing ammunition in a white lace gown, a gas mask, and steel-toe boots.  This masked bride wants answers, apologies, confessions, and no one is sure who she is or how much danger she has packed.  Confessions, accordingly, ensue.  Public presentations of insecurities and secrets among ex-lovers and continuing rivals and, oh yes, a bunch of shrinks.  One by one, and consequentially, the guests come clean, and still the hostage taker waits—for the right words from the right person.  If only she would say who that person is and what has driven her to this act of suburban terror.

What do people reveal, in those up-against-it hours?  Who dares to be a hero?  Is the language of therapy even vaguely annealing among those who are certified to use it?  How does one find air to breathe in a room so small and crowded with excess guilt and shame?  Who loves enough to step forward?  What will restore peace to this inverted day?  Lisa Zeidner's language is (of course) highly intelligent—that razor-sharp wit forever leavened by her poetic bent.  Her perspective is (we expect nothing else) fierce.  Her satire is (no question it would be) smartly calculated. When Lisa sits down to write a novel she doesn't tremble.  She writes sentences like these and invites us in to a festering room on a ceremonious day that may, in the end, but we have to read to find out, still cling to some vestige of tradition:
If they were a tribe in unforgiving terrain, if life were hard and short, there would be an excuse for people to festoon their hair with feathers and machete the suckling pig.  People in love?  Let's eat!  But here?  It was silly.  Why sanctify their love with a ceremony?  Especially a ceremony performed no in a church but in a suburban backyard, by a friend who made a point of alerting everyone that he bought his ministry license on the Internet.


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