Cover image for Layover : a novel
Layover : a novel
Zeidner, Lisa.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Random House, [1999]

Physical Description:
267 pages ; 23 cm
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Throw aside your idea of a heroine, and meet Claire Newbold. Despite hardship--a young child's death, infertility, an unfaithful husband--wry, ferocious Claire has been trying to soldier on. But then she simply checks out of job and home to confront love and loss on the road. During the leave of absence she takes from her usual life, her behavior ranges from the illicit to--she fears--the deranged. She develops a scam for staying in hotel rooms without paying. She seduces a teenage boy at a hotel swimming pool. Armed with a dangerous amount of medical lore (her husband is a surgeon), she pursues a diagnosis that might explain everything.      Claire even comes to believe that she is clairvoyant--able to "read" the souls of people she encounters on her travels. And eventually she begins to see into her own soul. Some might call her sexual exploits "casual"; to Claire they are anything but. As she struggles to repair her marriage and her life, she surprises herself--and us--by emerging with a new sense of redemption.        Layoveris a provocative, poignant, and entirely assured novel, with an unforgettable heroine at its heart.

Author Notes

Lisa Zeidner is the author of three novels, most recently Limited Partnerships, and two poetry collections, one of which won the Brittingham Prize. Her stories, essays, and reviews have appeared in many publications, including GQ and The New York Times . She is a professor at Rutgers University and lives in Haddonfield, New Jersey, with her husband and son.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Sometimes funny and sometimes tragic, Zeidner's novel probes the many-layered psyche of a woman stricken with grief over the death of her son and the infidelity of her husband. Claire is a salesperson for a medical supply company, a job that keeps her traveling for days at a time. As she sinks into depression, she finds herself more unwilling to return to her strained marriage, and one day she simply decides not to go back. Living in hotels, ignoring frantic calls from her husband and her therapist, she attempts to come to terms with the disaster that her life has become. Intelligent, sarcastic, and slightly unhinged, Claire is a fascinating character. Zeidner has done a wonderful job of capturing the dark night of the soul that comes to virtually all of us eventually by exploring the depths of Claire's grief and anger without once slipping into melodrama or cliche. --Bonnie Johnston

Publisher's Weekly Review

How does a mother cope with the death of her only child? Angry and grieving, medical equipment saleswoman Claire Newbold sheds her identity and becomes homeless. She occupies other people's recently vacated luxury hotel rooms, where she sleeps for hours, blotting out memories of the tragedy. What Claire can't escape are the other components of her past. Cardiothoracic surgeon Ken Leithauser, her husband of 17 years, accuses her of "fuguing out," and begs her forgiveness for his brief affair with a colleague; her clients bemoan her truancy; and her persistent therapist frets about her survival. The thrill of evading hotel security soon fades, leaving Claire vulnerable to chance encounters with little boys who would be the age of her son, had he survived the accident that claimed his life three years earlier. She grows ever more reckless: while stealing a swim in a hotel pool, Claire meets a college freshman, Zachary Davidoff, in town with his recently divorced mother, and seduces him. Posing as a surgeon, Claire wangles dinner with mother and son and hatches a plan to bed the senior Davidoff as well. Ignoring her therapist's advice to return home, Claire cavorts with Zach's father, a sexy lawyer, realizing that robust sex is, for her, a panacea for grief, and staying in his plush bachelor digs while she awaits the results of the test for cancer. Now yearning to see Ken, she saves a youngster's life, and realizes she'll be able to face a future that will always include the pain of loss. In this spirited, original take on the subject of prolonged grief, Zeidner presents a moving portrait of a woman who reclaims her life through passion and humor. An accomplished prose stylist, novelist (Limited Partnerships) and poet (Pocket Sundial), Zeidner skillfully charts the map of Claire's vulnerable heart, eschewing the maudlin. Instead, she offers titillatingÄand sometimes funnyÄsex, and a wicked sendup of contemporary life, deconstructing the men whose professions give them a false sense of aggrandizement and the women who live with them. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Claire Newbold, the maybe-unstable but assertively insightful and articulate narrator of poet/novelist Zeidner's new book, one day flees the pain of her young son's death and the shock of her husband's brief affair by abruptly abandoning husband, work, and home. Trolling from hotel to hotel along her familiar route as a medical equipment salesperson, Claire swims countless laps in too-small pools and reflects vigorously on sex, death, infertility, infidelity, and the enigmatic state of her own body and mind. While her situation is intense and her actions edgyÄsneaking into hotels with unreturned keycards, practicing almost-taboo seductions after 17 years of faithful matrimonyÄClaire's trajectory is oddly appealing, even familiar to any reader caught in the absurd quests demanded by midlife. Warmly recommended for contemporary fiction collections.ÄJanet Ingraham Dwyer, Columbus, OH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



        I packed for homelessness the way I would pack for a week         in Europe--wrinkle-free, in a carry-on. Traveling light is         easy in summer. Everything I owned that year seemed to be beige or gray, the palette of Roman tombstones, and airy enough to dry in a breeze, or by fan in a windowless hotel bathroom. The homeless people in cities pushing shopping carts, with their splayfooted, third-trimester walks: I saw no need to be manacled to my past, weighed down by it, when I had so little left. I floated away with no regrets. By then I was a ghost in my own life anyway. I had no plan. The first time, I simply missed a flight. I'd been traveling for business, and had taken to packing a bathing suit for hotel pools in Scranton, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia. On weekdays, midmorning, the dollhouse-sized pools were always empty, like sets from moody foreign films. No flirting, no kids. I tried to do enough laps to lose count. People kept telling me to take advantage of the gyms. Even the hotel clerks praised the equipment, always confidential and leering, as if sharing the address of the local S and M joint. I knew exactly the kind of men I could find bench-pressing there, but I didn't want to socialize with them or with anyone else. I just wanted the freedom not to think. The chlorine felt soothingly medicinal. And one day I swam too long, missed a plane. Only when I was back in my room, in the shower, did I wonder about the time, but I didn't rush. Even when I saw that it was too late to get to the airport, I didn't panic. My trajectory was infinitely adjustable. This is not the attitude I had been encouraged to cultivate in sales. But for some time I had been silently recalibrating my attitude toward my job. My "career" was old enough, rooted enough, to be allowed to grow or not on its own, as my child would have done if my child hadn't died. I was not less involved with work because my child died, though that's what everyone thought--I felt their edgy tolerance, their benevolence and the predictable backlash from their benevolence, their confidence that they were cutting me some slack even when I was performing perfectly well. So now I told no one who didn't already know. There wasn't anything to say, unless I wanted to discuss theology with strangers in airport lounges, meditate on whether one could find meaning in the statistics of highway fatalities, and I wanted to do this so little that when forced to discuss family status, I lied: I had a grown son in college, and was suffering from a mild case of empty-nest syndrome. He was at Brown. He didn't know his major yet. If pressed, I would add that he played tennis. If I'd had children at the old-fashioned time, right out of college myself, my son would have been college-aged. Nothing was repressed. My husband, Kenneth, and I had clocked in the requisite hours in therapy, singly and collectively, cupping the coal of grief in burned hands, fanning our grief as it turned to ash. The therapist was a tall man with very bad vision. I could barely see his eyes through his glasses, and their magnified, amniotic softness was oddly comforting. I thought of him, sometimes, while swimming. I could still summon forth his number on my laptop, and had been told I could call him whenever I needed to talk. But at the time, I felt fine. I called the airline, changed the flight. Still numbly tingling from swim and shower, I lay down, fell asleep. In retrospect, I understand that my bodily clock must have already been off, the battery low or spring overwound. Since there was no reason to hurry back, to snatch a child from day care, I'd revised how I set up appointments--eliminated some return trips so I could go straight from city to city, make my days less crammed. Avoid airport rushes. Swim in the morning and nap until checkout time, or not even sleep but just drift, waiting to be hungry enough for lunch. That day, however, I slept past checkout. The maid came in her white uniform, like a nurse. Waking, I took the hotel room for a hospital room, cringed from her tray full of hypodermics and ministrations. I knew Ignatia from three years of business in that city, that hotel. She knew about my son. We'd actually had a scene--this was earlier, when I would still confess, because I still cried unexpectedly--when I told her about the accident and she held me, smelling of gardenia and ammonia. Then pulled out a snapshot of her grandchildren, identifying each by name and age, which I thought was interesting. Most people will try so hard not to mention their own families, and you can feel their pride to be so restrained in the face of your bad luck, but she seemed to feel it would help me to witness her abundance. "What was boy's name?" she asked. I told her. She repeated it, smiled, and never mentioned him to me again. But she was always cheerful. I must have looked stricken. "Oh Miss, is okay," she assured me. "Sleepy," I apologized, and she said, "Oh, yes. Work hard," meaning I did, she did, or both. Then she backed herself and her cart out of the room, nodding. Her wordless concern felt almost psychic, as if she knew about Ken, forgave him for his perfectly understandable little affair as I did, but realized that I needed some extra solicitude. She must not have alerted the desk that I was still there. Nor did I. When I reached the lobby early that evening, the clerks were busy. I slipped my electronic key card into my purse and left. There was no thought of avoiding the charge for the extra day. But I knew instantly that I wouldn't be charged. I was a hard-core wage earner of the type hotel ads target. My husband was a cardiothoracic surgeon. My wallet was a garden of credit cards budding possibility, the holographic birds' wings glinting as if poised for flight. No one would ever suspect me of fraud, though I knew enough about the rhythms of that hotel, the staffs' frenzies and downtimes, the secret pockets, to take advantage.         Over the next week I found myself returning to this idea as         I made my appointments and did my rounds, greeting         housekeepers and clerks cordially as I had for the years I'd covered this territory selling medical equipment. Across a swath of country, defined as a brewing storm on a weather map, hotel clerks were friendly enough to say, "Ken called to see if you'd gotten in. Said it was urgent." And I could retort, "No pot roast tonight," though Ken had always been the cook in our family; he liked dishes where he got to wantonly chop and toss, as antidote to the precision of surgery. I could wave to the plainclothes detective in the lobby who was reading, just to be inconspicuous, the latest issue of Security Management, with revealing articles on methods for controlling "access-related incidents" that result in "guest property loss." Dollars and frequent-flier miles accrued. I was on the up-and-up, a true friend to "the lodging industry." But more and more often, I seemed to be neglecting to return my card to the desk, until I'd developed quite a collection--pathetic, like people who save restaurant matchbooks. Meanwhile, I'd begun to sleep later and later, until I was doing appointments in the morning and early afternoon, taking a siesta, and swimming in hotel pools at ten, eleven at night. Then midnight. (The posted signs prohibited this, but at that hour there were no pool police.) Calling room service at 2:00 am, checking my voice mail at dusk. Ken: "Where are you?" Ken: "I called Pittsburgh, just for fun." Flirtatious ("I'd send flowers, if you gave me a target state") and weary ("I am not amused"). In each call, hospital pages as background drone, steady as surf. I could imagine his bloody hands emerging from a rib cage as he rushed to answer my page. I'd interrupted surgery when I went into labor, and it was still seductive, romantic, to picture that pried-apart chest being abandoned, Ken storming into Labor and Delivery still sporting his mask and butcher's smock. How much time the both of us have spent in hospitals! The smell of it clung to us, not sanitized at all, but tacky, tumescent: the blood, the piss, the smoke in lobbies and bathrooms. Every day I left a reassuring message. No need to torture him. But no need to discuss it, either. In fact, there didn't appear to be any need to speak with anyone. Between fax and voice mail, I could go about my rounds invisibly, like the Wizard of Oz. Why board the plane, take the shuttle to the rental car, endure the running totals and ticket lines? Would it be possible to just stay still and concentrate--Tantric sales? What mainly stopped me was the fact that, after eight days, my husband had thought to trace my itinerary through my credit card use. I'd been leaving my messages on the home answering machine when I knew he'd be on rounds, but he was persistent, and when he dialed at 3:00 am, hoping I'd just pick up groggily, I did, because I was waiting for a cheeseburger and beer from room service, and it had been a while. "Hey," Ken said, aiming for breeziness. "Ken, what's wrong?" "What's wrong? You tell me." I didn't answer fast enough. "I should never have said anything, okay?" he went on. "But Christ, I was falling apart. It's not like--" "It's fine, Ken," I said, sincerely. "In what sense? In what sense is it 'fine'? I called Kramer. This is a stage, remember? He warned us. Like quitting smoking--you think it's done, you think you're safe. You're fuguing out. I mean, what do you need, retaliation? Go for it. But it won't help." "Sex?" I said, too surprised to get the words out: "Is that what you--?" So Kenneth winced to envision hotel couplings, soothingly anonymous. Maybe that's what he'd sought at his convention of cardiologists, though my impression was that he'd known the woman from his undergraduate days, and that their lighthearted reunion seemed like a promising way to suture past and future, chop out the unpleasant present. I understood that he never intended to bypass me. He just hoped to thrust his way past the accident's impact, the twisted tin. For him it was not a memory. He was not there. Still. The infant in the car seat hardly bloody, but no heartbeat. Never meant to throw baby out with bathwater was what I was thinking, what I couldn't work into a sentence, an unfortunate phrase under the circumstances, and also, still astonished, sex? The best way I could summarize was "I love you. I'll be home soon." "When?" "Get some sleep," I said, and went to open the door. A college kid doing a summer job nodded to me with the skepticism due a lone woman who orders room service in the middle of the night. (After aerobic sex, I'd presumably deserve to carboload.) Someone's son, with huge feet in sneakers like futuristic barges. His white uniform jacket was pointedly small, to stress that the hotel was by no means his real life. He wheeled in the cart and used a Chaplinesque flourish to remove the metal lid from the plate, grinning with a mime's delight at the burger. I smiled back, tipped him. Fact is, I loved the tin lid with its eye like a porthole, the cloth napkin, the carnation in the bud vase. I loved room service even when the food was tepid, the napkin reeked of ammonia. The failures were almost touching. My encounters with clerks and bellboys made me feel weirdly spiritual, as if we were preparing to rise to the occasion of flood or famine, to transcend the provincial louts we mostly were in daily life. Especially with the housekeepers. Tips aside, I had a real rapport with them. Like them, I knew how it felt to make other people's beds. And I knew how to use the little Spanish I had--not to insult them with hello or thank you, as if they couldn't recognize those words in English, but if I needed something specific: hand cream, thread. Maybe I credited them with too much insight, but I sensed that many of the housekeepers, even the very young ones, recognized me as a fellow exile, someone on the lam from tragedy, grateful to humbly enter and exit my compartment of the honeycomb. [A week or so later, Claire has invited herself along to dinner with Zach, a nineteen-year-old whom she has just seduced, and Zach's mom.]         "Oh my! How lovely! How many gazillion calories do you think this sauce has? Pure cellulite! On me it goes straight to my hips. Straight. How do you keep so slim, Claire?" A competitive weight conversation. Right in time for dinner. I managed to get out a sentence or two about the relaxing, centering properties of swimming laps. "Of course," Mar said, "at our age you can't win. If you manage to stay thin you get these." She jabbed with her fork near her crow's feet, her mouth. The one advantage of being fat, she remarked: smooth, flushed skin. Have you noticed how beautiful fat women's hands are? We might have been able to drift on to how hard chlorine is on the hair, but I had been with this woman less than an hour and I hated her. Hated her. I didn't manage to suppress a look to Zachary that meant, Is there any way to turn her off? The look he shot me back said, laconically, I told you so. We had this exchange fairly openly, since she didn't seem to be paying any attention. But she noticed immediately. It is always surprising how quick oblivious narcissists can be to catch a slight. Mar sighed, hurt. Even this nice dinner, the sigh said. I can't even have one nice dinner with my son. What I said next surprised even me. "Mar. May I offer a piece of advice? As a still-married woman? If what you want, more than anything in the world, is to be tenderly held, I can tell you that you're going about it the wrong way. Entirely the wrong way." She audibly gasped. How easy it still is to shock people with the truth. Any truth. Well, she asked to be hurt. Here was her self-fulfilling prophecy. "Certainly you must know that," I went on. "Talking so much is one thing--Christ, read Cosmo. But the neediness! It's stultifying! Where do you expect to get, presenting yourself like this? If you think the problem is your body--your thighs, your wrinkles--then work on your body. Lift weights. Do some low-rep sets two, three times a week. Build bone density. Build confidence. Exercise is good. But come on! Your gestures! They're anti-sexy! Start with stillness. Stillness and concentration. Yoga--that's what I recommend for you. Not weights. You don't need to become a grand master. Just learn the basics. Lie down, close your eyes, and feel the muscles in your body that are tensed, which on you is just about every single one of the available six hundred. Learn to untense them. Your eyelids, your neck, your knees. Learn how to be slack. Then maybe you can start to uncoil your mind, which is so knotted-up you can't hope to feel love, or peace, or just about anything else but futile anxiety." "Who are you to--" she stammered as I began, but then she just listened, helpless. As did Zach. Neither of them was eating. I was, though. Thoughtfully, talking in between, so this speech took a fairly long time to deliver. "I'm not trying to be unkind," I went on. "I'm trying to help, really. Stillness is the key. What are you rushing on to? Death? Stop. Let's have a lesson. Look around. If you could fuck anyone here, who would it be?" Zach pointed a cocked finger toward the cleavage of a babe in a push-up bra. "Not you." I Excerpted from Layover by Lisa Zeidner All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.