"Though Breathless, the fifth novel from the Massachusetts-based Smith, is a bona fide mystery, its thoughtful prose reads like one of Anita Brookner's introspective explorations. These are sentences you reread to savor even as you race eagerly after Jill to plumb that place she describes as 'between silence and word...the beguiling landscape of memory.' "

—People

Breathless

Excerpt


When she came back to the waiting room a uniformed policeman and a man in a suit were standing by the desk. They spoke quietly to the receptionist, and at that moment her eyes met those of the distraught woman. The two men turned to look at her and were joined by a policewoman, who must have been asked to park the car or fetch coffee, for she carried a small brown paper bag.

Things grew vivid; colors took on luster and outline, sounds began to absorb the fragments of silence that lay about. Suddenly it was as though pieces of a huge puzzle had lain around her like the ruins of an archeological treasure-house; and in the odd way that children have by just looking at the fragments she was able to make the preliminary connections in her mind. Silence; receptionist; police: the geometry of grief.

Layers of civilization began to fall away: what before had been a complicated network of details and superficialities, a life held together by a system of customs and manners, the way she intended to wear her hair, clean the sink, let the cat out, put on the yellow sweater, have the muffler checked, had become nothing more than the life of her husband, and the sudden absence of breath.

Fiction
“Old pals Nick and Rob are headin’ back to college. But not to resume their studies: they're pushing 50 now, with careers and families, and they’re both unemployed, laid off from well-paying jobs. Then one of them remembers an episode from their younger, more adventurous days, when they were known, occasionally, to partake of some not-entirely-legal substances. It turns out they know where to find two mason jars of a definitely illegal substance buried on their old college campus. The plan: dig the stuff up, sell it, make a quick profit. The plan’s execution: well, let’s just say it doesn’t go entirely—or even mostly—as they thought it would. Like Donald Westlake’s The Ax (1997), which features an out-of-work family man driven by desperation to find an extreme solution to his problem, Smith’s novel depends on the reader’s willingness to accept that an ordinary person will do some very uncharacteristic things to keep his life from imploding. A solidly constructed and nicely written comic thriller.” —Booklist
In this haunting and sensual story, first published in 1995, the violent death of a psychiatrist sends his wife on a journey into her hidden self. Jill Bowman, a Boston-based historian and professor, is engaged in research on the London Plague of 1665. Her life has long been bounded by academic obligations, responsibility for her autistic daughter, and life with her husband, Dr. Peter Freytag. Breathless opens with the discovery of his body in a seedy hotel room. But the real intricacies of the story that unfolds are those of Jill herself and her struggles with Peter’s sudden death, the secrets it reveals, and the shadowy parts of her own life. Although Breathless gives the reader an exceptionally intimate and comprehensive view of Jill’s life, it also becomes the story of her relationship with the detective in charge of her husband’s case, David Resnick. For breathlessness can be as much a condition of passion as it is of death. Love as a virus, love in a time of plague, the mystery and danger of desire: these are some of the themes of Breathless, a novel of compelling simplicity and astonishing power.
In this Barnes & Noble Discover Title, first published in 1992, 17th Century Netherlands intertwines with present-day America as novelist David Reid attempts to decipher the mystery of his wife’s sudden death through the paintings of Vermeer. Was it suicide? An accident? Murder? Was Kate leaving him for another man, or was she on her way back to him? Searching for the truth, David becomes entangled in a web of deception and betrayal only to face the difficult question: How much do we really know about those we love? Or are they like the women glimpsed in Kate’s beloved Vermeer’s paintings, somehow beyond understanding?
Following the disappearance of his wife Honnie, with no idea whether she has left him or been abducted, Adam Füst returns to work as assistant to a controversial Hungarian film director now based in France. At first it appears Adam will be able to go on with his life; but with the help of Cuvillier, a brilliant but amoral cop, Adam pours over the shards of his past five years with Honnie, only to discover how macabre her life had become. In search of his wife, Adam enters a Paris of nightclubs and gothic eroticism, a world which repulses him even as it draws him inwards. Honnie remains a haunting absence at the center of this novel first published in 1989, until one evening at dusk, the blue hour, this modern version of the Orpheus myth finds Adam descending into the underworld to rescue the love of his life.
After fleeing to Paris to escape communist rule, Polish émigré piano player Jerzy Wozzeck finds it impossible to support his family on his gigs. So when a friend offers a fat payoff for handling a string of deliveries, Jerzy quickly finds himself in the uneasy employ of an anonymous suit and his sensual assistant. With a couple of flawless jobs under his belt, Jerzy starts living the good life—until, on one such run, he stumbles across a corpse and realizes his benefactors will go to any lengths to protect their operations, including selling his soul piece by piece to maintain his illusion of prosperity. But when rival crime lords and hit men enter the fray, Jerzy plots to escape his boss’s dirty dealings—only to discover he’s in too deep to get out alive. First published in 1987.
For years, Alex Ostroff churns out unsuccessful, unpublished manuscripts. His rejection is complete when he’s rebuffed by London’s literary set. His exasperated literary agent encourages Alex to write what he knows, but the writer is loathe to reveal anything about himself. Alex follows the advice, however, mining his childhood for material. The son of Russian expatriates, Alex has a compelling past. His parents, glamorous figures living in France under assumed names, worked with a shadowy Frenchman named Felix Dumont in a mysterious import-export business that involved fraud, forgery, blackmail, and murder. Drawing from these memories, Alex’s new novel, Troika, finally lands the struggling author some acclaim. As his writing career—and the media’s fascination with him—gathers steam, Alex questions much of what his parents have told him. And when he unexpectedly encounters Dumont in London, he learns the dark facts lurking behind the fictions of his life. And what, exactly, have we just read? The truth, or just another elaborate fiction? The Man from Marseille first appeared in 1985.

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