Sunday, September 8, 2002
In its scrutiny of the weather in Southern California ï¿½ a climate prone to endless stretches where one day is indistinguishable from the one before it ï¿½ "Malaise" makes for an unexpectedly apt and generous end-of-the-summer read.
Nancy Lemann's novels have always been set in stormy weather, no matter the season.
Her characters shuttled back and forth from cosmopolitan sojourns in the East to their native Louisiana Gulf Coast, imbued with all the drama and frenzied exhilaration of a hurricane forecast. They drank too much, experienced nervous breakdowns and were overcome by fits of conspicuous charm.
"Malaise" is a departure from Lemann's previous work in that her Southern heroine is older and the setting, along with the humor, is very dry.
Fleming Ford, originally of Fort Defiance, Ala. ï¿½ the "type of town that is still living on its memories of being the state capital from 1830 to 1831" ï¿½ finds herself in Esperanza, Calif., far from both her Southern roots and the Old World comforts of New York, where she worked as a journalist.