Sunday, September 25, 2011

Leslie Daniels writes a romance about Nabokov.

This novel was recommended to me probably because of the Nabokov connection. I enjoyed its playful approach to sacrosanct topics.

Cleaning Nabokov’s House

Leslie Daniels' debut novel, Cleaning Nabokov’s House (336 pages, Touchstone, $24), is an odd mixture of a work of literary fiction and an unadulterated romance. The heroine Barb, newly divorced, seems barely able to keep herself fed and dressed before she finds herself able to buy a house in an upstate New York college town, where she soon discovers an odd manuscript that might have been written by Vladimir Nabokov, who lived in the house while he taught at the College for a short time.

The manuscript, which is a kind of fantasy about Babe Ruth, fascinates Barb and starts to pull her out of her desperate funk.

She does not feel bad about choosing to leave her husband, but his well-connected local charisma allows him to keep her two children, and this drives her crazy. She is hoping that the money from the Nabokov might give her the money she needs to get her children back.

Of course, she also needs a stable home, and as she starts to come out of her depression, the home starts to feel anything by stable. For one thing, she decides, after a trip to New York where she sees the door of a notorious “cathouse,” to open a male brothel in her town. She poses as a sex-researcher, and gets local strapping college boys to function as her staff. Then she spreads the word for desperate housewives who would like a break in their daily grind. This male “cathouse” becomes so popular that she almost gets in trouble. Her few friends spend all their time urging her to be careful.

Meanwhile, she has fallen, romance-style, for a handsome and well-built local carpenter, Greg. Barb dates Greg gingerly, as if all men are poisonous; but at the same time she does want him to know about her brothel. This creates a bit of narrative amusement, and Daniels is good at playing these two plots against each other.

When the Nabokov connection falls through, Barb’s agent Maggie, the wife of another friend, urges her to try writing romance. She resists at first but gradually she gets the bug and starts to make a success of romance novel writing.

All this time, she is fighting to get her kids. Whether or not that works, when she is involved in running a brothel, is part of the delight of the book. The court-room battle between her and her ex-husband is one of the high points of the narrative.

Leslie Daniels has written an amusing first novel.

Leslie Daniels

Cleaning Nabokov's House is available at Powell's, Vroman's and Amazon.

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