Weekly Wire
Tucson Weekly Out For 'Blood'

Novelist Peter Landesman Falls From Grace With His Sophomore Effort.

By Randall Holdridge

JUNE 14, 1999: 

Blood Acre, by Peter Landesman (Viking). Cloth, $23.95.

PETER LANDESMAN'S first novel, The Raven, won the Sue Kaufman Prize for fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and became a bestseller in Germany. His new, second novel, Blood Acre, is lousy. Other than a neglected spaniel named Baron, there's nothing and nobody in this book worthy of sympathy.

Insofar as Blood Acre can be said to focus on anything, it's on Nathan Stein, about as repulsive a character as ever lived. Stein is a high-rolling Manhattan lawyer, fixer and middle man, who pads out his income by calling his own 900 number on the telephones of friends. He charges a couple of calls from the hospital bedside of his dying girlfriend. He leaves his clients languishing in jail with no intention of redeeming the advance fees paid on their behalf, although he does drop in every now and again for a blow job while the guards he's bribed look the other way.

The action is put in play by the discovery of an abused corpse in freezing winter surf at Coney Island. The stiff is Isabel, Nathan's secretary and lover, the latter relationship having been consummated mostly on the desk in his office, in spite of the fact that the two are siblings. Isabel is the offspring of Nathan's equally odious father (and law partner), Milton, and the secretary whose position at the firm of Stein and Stein has thus been passed from mother to daughter.

Nathan is the prime suspect in the case, which is being investigated by detective Errol Santos...who happens also to be the brother of Isabel and Nathan's best childhood friend. Errol's anger is fueled mostly by jealousy, since he, too, has suffered the pangs of incestuous lust. Meantime, he's making an effort at reform (or revenge) by bedding Nathan's former wife, Claire, who resents the fact that Nathan never noticed, even in the fourth month, that she was pregnant; apparently it never occurred to her to simply mention her joyous state. This son then dies shortly after birth.

The story unfolds over a 48-hour period, as Nathan--fueled by an array of prescription drugs stashed in every pocket--runs from one vile mess to another, tailed by a mysterious red sedan. In this brief span Nathan visits his parents' old apartment on Central Park West; drops in on his demented grandmother; visits the hospital twice; checks on a few of his scattered love nests (he has a thing for Latinas); answers or ignores about a billion calls on his pager; gets arrested and spends a night in jail; coerces a few clients incarcerated at Riker's Island; makes a court appearance; disrupts Isabel's funeral (she's managed to undergo death, embalming and burial in the record time of 16 hours); meets with a judgmental priest at the morgue; and hits the office twice, not to mention several bars in between.

He even finds time for a couple of quickies with a prostitute before heading out to his abandoned mansion in the Hamptons, which is being rifled by two ghoulish associates from Stein and Stein: the villainous Oliver Schreck and Ruth Gutman (who may also be another sister).

If this bleak summary makes Blood Acre sound as if it might at least be a fast-moving adventure, it's not. A painter as well as a writer, Landesman attempts a narrative method which might charitably be called "cubism." Chunked together by flashback memories and various interior monologues by the diverse cast of characters, past and present blur incomprehensibly. The method prohibits even the grim pleasure one might find in freely savoring the ridiculous improbability of the frenetic action and heartless relationships.

This final injustice is that Blood Acre has literary pretensions, as evidenced by the descriptive prose which Landesman's publicists claim as his unique power. In fact, it's merely an accumulation of dense catalogues of detail, related mostly in sentence fragments:

Dry snow whirlpools on the boardwalk in narrow cyclones, weaving between the rails. Below, strung along the frozen beach, a high-tide mark of harbor refuse, clothes, bottles, the skeletons of household appliances thrown from the piers, unnamable mounds shrouded in frozen seaweed and foam snaking out of sight past Brighton Beach. Past the blackened ruins of the wood roller coaster banking and rolling above an empty lot, the tarred lattice threatening collapse. Past the Wonderwheel and its love seats rocking out of sync, squealing in the wind. Past other rides, the giant octopus, the skeet shoots, the basketball throw, seven blocks of tarpaulined cotton candy stands, the Sea Land clam bar, a large brick building bearing the legend ORIENTAL HOT BATHS barricaded by plywood sheets and wrapped in ribbons of graffiti. A pair of sneakers dangling from a telephone line kicking like amputated feet toward the backside dumpsters of Famous's where red paint spells FUCK WHITE.

This example from the opening is one of the better bits. After a couple of hundred pages, there's only one thing about Blood Acre that's abundantly clear: it's an overwrought bore.


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