Cover image for The body of Jonah Boyd : a novel
The body of Jonah Boyd : a novel
Leavitt, David, 1961-
Personal Author:
First U.S. edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Bloomsbury : Distributed to the trade by Holtzbrinck Publishers, 2004.
Physical Description:
215 pages ; 22 cm
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 7.1 11.0 80662.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



The brilliant new novel from an author The New York Times has called "one of his generation's most gifted writers."

It's 1969, and Judith "Denny" Denham has just begun an affair with Dr. Ernest Wright, a psychology professor at Wellspring University, who just happens to be her boss. But her position in the Wright household is not merely as a mistress. Ernest's wife, Nancy, has taken Denny under her wing as a four-hand piano partner and general confidante, although Denny can never seem to measure up to Anne, Nancy's best friend from back east. Ernest's eldest son has fled over the Canadian border to escape the draft, while his only daughter has embarked on a secret affair with her father's prot#65533;g#65533;. The remaining son, Ben, is fifteen, and as delicate and insufferable as only a poetry-writing fifteen-year-old can be.

That autumn, Denny crosses the freeway that separates Wellspring from its less affluent mirror image, Springwell, to spend Thanksgiving with the Wrights and their assortment of strays, including two honored guests: the eagerly anticipated Anne and Anne's new husband, the acclaimed novelist Jonah Boyd. The chain of events set in motion that Thanksgiving will change the lives of everyone involved in ways that none can imagine, and that won't become clear for decades to come.

Hilarious and scorching, David Leavitt's first novel in four years is a tribute to the power of home, the lure of success, the mystery of originality, and, above all, the sisterhood of secretaries. Flawlessly crafted and full of surprises, it is a showcase for Leavitt's considerable skills.

Author Notes

David Leavitt's first collection of stories, "Family Dancing," was a finalist for both the National Book Critics Circle Award & the PEN/Faulkner Prize. "The Lost Language of Cranes" was made into a BBC film, & "While England Sleeps" was shortlisted for the Los Angeles Times Fiction Prize. Leavitt is also the author of "Equal Affections," "A Place I've Never Been," "Arkansas," & "The Page Turner." With Mark Mitchell, he coedited "The Penguin Book of Short Stories" & "The Pages Passed from Hand to Hand" & cowrote "Italian Pleasures." He is recipient of fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation & the National Endowment for the Arts.

He divides his time between Italy and Florida.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

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 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

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 doppelganger, 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. 9-city author tour. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In Leavitt's latest novel (after Martin Bauman; Or, A Sure Thing), secretary Judith "Denny" Denham recounts the events of a memorable Thanksgiving spent with her boss/lover's family in Wellspring, CA. It is 1969, and the Wright family psychoanalyst Ernest, wife Nancy (who has befriended Denny), and children Daphne and Ben is preparing for a visit from old friend Anne Armstrong and her new husband, author and professor Jonah Boyd. Proud as he is of his new manuscript, Jonah has an annoying habit of misplacing it wherever he travels, and, after reading from it to the Wrights that Thanksgiving evening, he loses it irretrievably. What this means to Boyd; his unhappy wife, Anne; Denny; and intense young writer Ben forms the crux of the novel, a warm and affectionate portrait of an extended family that is unwittingly changed by this turn of events. One can predict the plot twists regarding the lost manuscript well before they click into place, and Denny and Ben's sudden devotion to each other comes from out of left field. Still, this is generally a breezy and humorous book whose charms outweigh any flaws; many readers will enjoy it. Marc Kloszewski, Indiana Free Lib., PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.