Here are three novellas of escape and exile, touching and funny and at times calculatedly outrageous. In "Saturn Street," a disaffected L.A. screenwriter delivers lunches to homebound AIDS patients, only to find himself falling in love with one of them. In "The Wooden Anniversary," Nathan and Celia - familiar characters from Leavitt's story collections - reunite after a five-year separation. And in "The Term-Paper Artist," a writer named David Leavitt, hiding out at his father's house in the aftermath of a publishing scandal, experiences literary rejuvenation when he agrees to write term papers for UCLA undergraduates in exchange for sex.
After the scandal that followed the publication of While England Sleeps, Leavitt has obviously decided to keep his distance from revered English poets with dicey sexual backgrounds. Here he presents three novellas about someone he can be reasonably sure won't sue-himself. In "The Term Paper Artist," a character named David Leavitt, unable to make any headway on a new book, turns to engineering term papers for UCLA undergrads in exchange for sex. It's the best writing of David's life, until he collides with a desperate Mormon whose predicament reintroduces a moral context that complicates the hedonistic torpor via an overwrought analysis of Jack the Ripper. "The Wooden Anniversary" picks up the story of Celia and Nathan (Leavitt regulars), who have been thrown together at Celia's cooking school in Tuscany. Nathan falls for Celia's straight chef, leading to a series of mildly anguishing high jinks, but the real suffering-and the plot's harshest blow-is concealed until the novella's closing pages. The collection's best inclusion, "Saturn Street," follows a New York writer who, in the aftermath of his lover's suicide, is hiding out in L.A. and delivering meals to homebound AIDS patients. By turns tender, awkward and amusing, the tale showcases Leavitt's acumen at delineating different generations of gay men, as well as his skill at contrasting jittery self-consciousness with the sort of placid resignation that can accompany a terminal illness. The collection's title comes from an instructive Wilde quote about exile, and that's what Leavitt has provided here: a set of lessons for wounded hearts desperate to make their escapes. First serial to Esquire; author tour; foreign sales to Italy and the Netherlands. (Apr.)