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The Body of Jonah Boyd: A Novel Hardcover – May 7, 2004

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"Kitchens of the Great Midwest" by J. Ryan Stradal
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This engaging though slight family romance centers on manipulative psychoanalyst Ernest Wright; his hysterical wife, Nancy; and their teenage children, Daphne and neurotic budding writer Ben. Their household is a magnet for complicated and clandestine entanglements, with narrator Denny, secretary and lover to Ernest and surrogate daughter to Nancy, fetishizing the Wright house as a substitute for the home she never had; and Glenn, Ernest's graduate student and doppelgänger, secretly loving up Daphne. Enter, one Thanksgiving in 1969, Nancy's best friend Anne and her novelist husband, the charming wife-beater Jonah Boyd, who become blowsily seductive surrogate mother and warmly paternal literary mentor to Ben. When the notebooks containing Jonah's nearly finished masterpiece go missing, they take on a mythic status that reverberates through Ben's subsequent career. The tale draws a link between literary creation and family procreation: just as a book started by one writer can be finished by another, the process of psychosexual development started by parents is completed by their Oedipal and Electra stand-ins. Leavitt (The Lost Language of Cranes; Equal Affections; etc.) possesses a limpid style, a gift for characterization and a sharp eye for middle-class family life. But his contrived plot, driven by the characters' obsessions with a talismanic manuscript and a talismanic house (the Wrights cannot bequeath their beloved home to their children because the university where Ernest teaches owns the land), fails to convincingly join together his two themes, the one an exercise in classic Freudianism, the other the sort of writerly pondering of the sources of inspiration that primarily interests other writers.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Thirty years later, Judith "Denny" Denham recalls the fateful Thanksgiving of 1969, which she spent with the family of her employer, Dr. Ernest Wright of Wellspring University's psych department. Momentous at the time because Nancy Wright's best friend from back East was visiting with her new husband, novelist Jonah Boyd, the day became more momentous because during it Boyd lost his magnum-opus third novel. A few years later, he fell off the wagon and drove into a bridge. The slow revelation of what actually happened that day to the manuscript and among several characters, especially Anne Boyd and 15-year-old Ben Wright, may be the mainspring of the action here, but the dozens of smaller, character-related disclosures Denny makes as she retraces everybody's steps before and after as well as on that day account for the pungent, sad charm of Leavitt's satisfying new novel. Followers of Leavitt's career may note that his nemesis, plagiarism, figures in here, while homosexuality, formerly prevalent in his fiction, does not, and conclude that this is his best novel. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; First Edition edition (May 7, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582341885
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582341880
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,948,168 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Foster Corbin TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 3, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When David Leavitt published FAMILY DANCING in the l980's, I was convinced that he would be our next great gay writer as that book of stories was so brilliantly written. I have read everything that Mr. Leavitt has written since; from where I sit, nothing has measured up to his first book. THE BODY OF JONAH BOYD is no exception. I really wish I liked his fiction more. He seems to be a terribly nice person, certainly has a flair for language and often makes profound statements about the world in general. He, moreover, is most adept at character development, piling on detail after detail to make his people come alive. Here we even know what kind of purse one woman carries and what she has in it, for example. But in the end I find most of his characters not very interesting. In this latest novel, they all apparently are heterosexual. (Perhaps Mr. Leavitt is aiming for a larger audience here.) The narrator is a "fat" secretary (Denny)-- that's her description of her body, not mine-- who jumps into bed with married older men faster than she can type--certainly a little difficult to fathom. Then there's the writer who either does or doesn't get his works accepted by THE NEW YORKER, a recurring dilemma for many of Leavitt's characters.
What this novel does have going for it is that parts of it read almost like a decent mystery since Jonah Boyd's novel manuscript is missing.Yes, this book is a book is a book about books. But it has little to do with the brillance of Mr. Leavitt's early work.
Finally, whoever wrote the blurb on the inside front of the dust jacket said that this book is a tribute to "the sisterhood of secretaries." Surely he or she cannot be serious.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Richard L. Goldfarb on January 6, 2007
Format: Hardcover
You know what I mean, "Never mind!" Think the book is overwritten and laugh out loud when Ben says that his writing was overwritten? Doesn't matter. Think the book gets simple facts about the period wrong? Doesn't matter. Why? Because at the end the author takes no responsibility for the book, in a last chapter written in the same voice but a different voice. Confused enough? Hopefully, not even to waste your time on this book.

"The Body of Jonah Boyd" centers around a single Thanksgiving dinner in the late 1960's in a college town outside Los Angeles. Jonah Boyd is a writer, the second husband of Nancy Wright's best friend Ann. Ann used to play four-hand piano with Nancy until Nancy moved to the west coast, where she started playing four-hand piano with our alleged protagonist, Denny, her husband's secretary and paramour. Ann and Jonah come to visit the Wrights at Thanksgiving, during which the notebooks containing Jonah's new novel are mysteriously lost sometime around the time Jonah and the Wrights' youngest son Ben, an aspiring poet, went for a walk down the arroyo. This event was a turning point in Jonah's life, in Ann's life and in Ben's life, but not particularly in Denny's life, yet again, the reason she thought so much about it is explained in the last chapter.

I'm sure there is some literary trick going on here that makes sense to the author and his editors, but the plot and characters in this book, as well as the overwritten prose style, "no cliche goes unused", don't make it worth your time. Find something better to read. It won't be hard.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Linda Oskam on August 4, 2006
Format: Paperback
Denny Denham is not only the secretary of Dr. Ernest Wright, a psychotherapist at Wellspring University, but also his lover and the best friend of his wife. Years after the 1968 Thanksgiving dinner she describes the events that took place: how the famous author Jonah Boyd and his second wife, a friend of Mrs. Wright, come for dinner and how he reads out loud part of the manuscript for his new novel. He takes the manuscript, written in leather-bound Italian notebooks, everywhere with him but the day after Thanksgiving they are suddenly lost. The whole house and surroundings are put upside down, but the notebooks remain lost: end of Jonah Boyd's career. Years later it becomes clear what happened to the notebooks and how they influenced the lifes of the people present at the dinner.

David Leavitt is a fantastic writer (The lost language of the cranes is wonderful), but this book appealed less to me. The family problems were very American and the storyline about the lost manuscript had a solution that one could see coming from a mile away. Despite all this it was a pleasant book to read during a rainy day camping.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Kenneth Kilgour on June 1, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I've read all of David Leavitt's fiction at least once, and I eagerly await each new book. As a former bookstore manager, I used to love selling his books with a personal recommendation. This was not a book that I could recommend.
To my tastes, instead of careful character development, Leavitt leaves the reader with plot twists and turns, spiced up with more than one change in narrative voice in the book's second half. While I am content for favorite authors to try new things - think of Michael Cunningham's The Hours - I found none of what delighted me about Leavitt's earlier fiction in this novel.
His sub-par performance is still at least as good as the run-of-the-mill novel, but I was hoping for his usual outstanding delivery.
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