Review published on August 9, 2018.
Claire Newbold is floundering, struggling to keep up appearances while teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Outwardly a strong and successful salesperson who travels the country repping medical equipment to hospitals and other major clients, the death of her only child in a car accident has left her feeling disconnected from her work, from her husband Ken, from her friends, from reality in general really. She doesn’t seem to feel anything anymore, especially since Ken’s plan (possibly motivated by the massive amount of couples counselling they have been through) for them to have another child hasn’t panned out.
When Ken makes a spectacularly ill-timed confession about having cheated on her, something in Claire finally snaps and she takes a leave of absence from regular life. She continues to visit the hotels that she uses when travelling for business, but she no longer pays to stay in them. Instead, with the unwitting assistance of various housekeepers and desk clerks, she cons her way into vacant rooms, her only sense of enjoyment stemming from her illicit use of hotel swimming pools. During one such trip to the pool, she meets eighteen-year-old Zachary and begins to question whether, now that she’s no longer a mother, she still wants to be a wife.
Layover by Lisa Zeidner is the account of a woman’s descent into the absolute blankness of despair. Claire Newbold has been suffering numbly on with life since the death of her son, but the events depicted in the book show how she hits rock bottom, how she attempts to deal with her overwhelming sense of loss and emptiness by engaging in needlessly criminal acts (she could, after all, easy afford to pay for her hotel stays) and throwing herself into forbidden sexual encounters (first with Zachary, then with his father). While she has clearly become somewhat detached from reality, and the tone of the narrative reflects that remoteness, Claire displays a subtle yet still heightened sense of emotionality throughout, at least to readers’ eyes. She is very clearly on the brink of either disappearing into her sadness completely or else sating her grief and desire for oblivion through self-destructive acts so that she might eventually emerge to find some kind of redemption.
Claire enjoys the anonymity offered by her hotel-based existence. She likes being able to meet people and present a carefully curated version of herself to them, safe in the knowledge that she will be able to slip away and never see them again. Although at times it appears that her new-found sense of freedom has granted her the ability to approach life with total (if not brutal) honesty, there are some truths that she still shies away from. When she lies about her son, telling people that he is away at college, is she really trying to save listeners from discomfort or is she attempting to convince herself, even if just for a minute, that all is as it used to be? If she truly no longer cares about life, why does she take such pains to hide her location and her activities from Ken, from her therapist, from her clients?
Layover is an emotional, often painful, frequently funny, and sometimes even cringe-worthy (imagine sitting through that dinner with Zachary and his mother!?) first-person account of Claire Newbold’s breakdown and her resultant struggle to find herself again following the death of her son and the betrayal by her husband. Zeidner has produced a powerful yet compassionate tale of how the extreme devastation of bereavement can play out internally in a society that frowns upon overt displays of grief. It is a thoughtful and highly impactful exploration of alienation and just how easy it is to feel alone even when surrounded by people.
Erin Britton 4/-
Layover by Lisa Zeidner
Pushkin One 9781911590019 pbk Jul 2018
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