“[A] suspenseful tale of Eleanor’s relationship with the magazine hack. Through him, Bialosky explores the idea that needy people are often the most powerful and destabilizing. We’re not sure why Eleanor wants to have an affair with him, but we believe she does — and with a kind of reckless illogic that would do Tolstoy proud.”— New York Times Book Review
Eleanor Cahn is a professor of literature, the wife of a preeminent cardiac surgeon, and a devoted mother. But on a trip to Paris to present a paper on Anna Karenina, Eleanor re-connects with Stephen, a childhood friend with whom she has had a complicated relationship, that forces her to realize that she has suppressed her passionate self for years. As the novel unfolds, we learn of her hidden erotic past: with alluring, elusive Stephen; with ethereal William, her high school boyfriend; with married, egotistical Adam, the painter who initiated her into the intimacies of the “life room,” where the artist’s model sometimes becomes muse; and with loyal, steady Michael, her husband. On her return to New York, Eleanor and Stephen’s charged attraction takes on a life of its own and threatens to destroy everything she has.
Jill Bialosky has created a fresh, piercingly real heroine who struggles with the spiritual questions and dilemmas of our time and, like Tolstoy’s immortal Anna Karenina, must choose between desire and responsibility.
“The premise of Bialosky’s novel seems generic, but she uses this to advantage, highlighting symbolic and schematic elements to produce a study in self-examination that withholds emotional satisfaction from protagonist and reader alike, managing at once to frustrate and to entrance. One of Eleanor’s ex-lovers says of his own novel, ‘It has no plot. It’s about desire,’ and something similar is true of Bialosky’s. She is adept at capturing the banality of desire and the patterns of contemporary lives that are ‘all angst with no transformation.’”— The New Yorker
“Like Michael Cunningham’s The Hours echoing Mrs. Dalloway, Jill Bialosky’s new novel has a literary ghost rattling around in its walls. Anna Karenina haunts The Life Room. Instead of a single Vronsky, Eleanor faces several. Her resolute self-destruction, with love the prime weapon, gives this novel the feel of an oncoming train.”— Los Angeles Times
“Bialosky’s brightly burning novel of desire and aberration, and a woman’s quest for deeper understanding, is remarkable for its insights into erotic compulsion and the unbearable awkwardness and pain of flawed and failed love.”— Booklist
“Eleanor Cahn is of two minds about her impending trip to Paris, the event that kicks off poet and editor Jill Bialosky’s introspective second novel… Eleanor’s quest is the search for her lost passion and …[Bialosky’s] poet’s gift for language is up to the task.”— Chicago Tribune
“Jill Bialosky opens up in The Life Room”— Vanity Fair
“Luminous… In whip-smart, gorgeous prose, Bialosky explores the push-pull of passion and responsibility, and the intoxication of dangerous liaisons.”— Dame Magazine
“[In] The Life Room, Bialosky creates a character brave enough to look back and try to regenerate all the emotional intensity of her younger self. …one can’t help but applaud her courage in not only asking the tough questions, but trying to find the answers. The Life Room is also a subtle examination of art and the act of creation itself. The novel examines art’s transformative power as a vehicle of not only expression, but escape. Through the character of Adam, Bialosky also plumbs the difficulties of staying true to one’s authenticity in the face of rejection and holding onto the integrity of artistic vision in an increasingly commercial world.”— The Boston Globe
“The Life Room, Jill Bialosky’s second novel, reimagines Tolstoy’s society driven epic, Anna Karenina, as a bildungsroman. Though the plot parallels the sordid events surrounding the affair between the troubled Anna and the dashing Count Vronsky, the best moments in Bialosky’s book concern the interior life of Eleanor Cahn, a literature professor, wife, and mother in her late thirties… engaging.”— Book Forum
“In her exquisite, carefully observed exploration of a modern woman’s inner life, Jill Bialosky has written a novel that poses an essential question: how do we reconcile our passions — love, work, erotic life, children? The Life Room is an elegant, daring book, driven by internal suspense.”— Dani Shapiro, author of Family History and Slow Motion
“Jill Bialosky pierces the heart here until the reader feels just exactly what it means to have it all — husband, children, success — and yet to be achingly alone, longing for passion, of the kind Anna Karenina sacrificed everything for. Through Bialosky’s elegant prose and tremendous talents as a storyteller, desire reverberates across the pages to meet the reader’s own.”— Martha McPhee, author of L’America
“What’s most extraordinary about The Life Room is its unabashed honesty. In a novel that is daring and form-shifting and challenging in all the very best ways, Jill Bialosky still manages to keep it true to course. There is a texture in every sentence, but most importantly you emerge from the novel feeling as you have met a life that has glanced against your own, and gratefully your world has been shifted. A lovely, genuine, deep work of art.”— Colum McCann, author of Zoli
“In this story — at once graceful and pulsating — Bialosky holds up the old question to a new light. What is the nature of erotic desire that it can potentially devastate a woman’s work and personal life? Unflinching and beautifully written, The Life Roompays heed to the women of literature and artists who have gone before. A truly impressive feat.”— Elizabeth Strout, author of Amy and Isabelle
“The Life Room is patient in its investigations of love and erotically charged. By the end of this story, readers will be convinced that Eleanor Cahn knows more about Anna Karenina, let alone the inventive despair of the human heart, than anyone they are likely to have met in literature in a very, very long time. This is a stunningly honest and generous and finely crafted novel.”— Howard Norman, author of Devotion