Pretzel Logic

by Lisa Rogak

Published by Williams Hill

256 pages, 1999

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Closet Logic

Reviewed by Linda L. Richards


Emily Spencer is bright, engaging and strong-willed. When we meet her in the opening pages of Pretzel Logic she's a reporter with a reputation for getting her story, no matter who she offends along the way. Quickly, Emily meets Michael and the two begin a short but intense whirlwind relationship. In short order they get married and buy the small newspaper in Emily's hometown to run together.

The characters are likable enough and the relationship is sufficiently believable that when the comfortable life the two of them build begins to unravel, it's hard not to feel Emily's first-person-pain. What Emily experiences is the rapid but complete withdrawal of her husband. As though, she muses at one point, someone had come in the night and replaced him with a pod person. Where he had been warm and forthcoming, he is suddenly frosty and dismissive. Where there had been shared activities and laughter, she's suddenly alone. And she is mystified and hurt. What could have caused the sudden change?

This first part of Pretzel Logic -- the building to inevitable conclusions -- is written with strength and authority. Though she's written 25 non-fiction books, this is Lisa Rogak's first novel, but she writes well enough that one hopes it won't be her last. Her prose is sparse, yet rich and she establishes mood and a sense of identity with location with no apparent effort.

And beside me sat Michael, my companion, letting out an occasional whoop although sounding slightly nervous about it, and unsure of what to do with his hands. First he placed them flat on his lap, palms down. A minute later they were sliding up and down on his glass, wiping away the beads of sweat that meet when Dewar's meets ice.

When Emily finally discovers that Michael -- her husband of several years -- is gay, the novel begins to lose some of its crispness. Though we've been led to believe that Emily is strong, healthy and sure, some of her actions leave us wondering about our earlier assessment. Rather than taking immediate action of any kind -- from leaving him to howling at the moon -- Emily withdraws as well, and much of the book is spent in something of a limbo while both partners spend a lot of time driving to self help groups and therapy sessions.

I never put so many miles on my car in such a short period of time since Michael came out. Only a month and it was time for another oil change for the 240. Having a gay husband was turning out to be tough on cars.

It is not that the prose falters so much through this period between discovery and self-discovery. Rather, it devolves from entertaining storytelling to occasionally having the feel of a memoir. It's a subtle difference, but an important one in a novel. And it has nothing to do with the first person storytelling. After all, Sue Grafton manages to write book after book in the first person, and we never confuse the author with Kinsey Millhone. On the other hand, we never feel that Grafton is grinding an ax or trying to spread knowledge and there is something of both in much of Pretzel Logic. Yes, it is likely difficult for the straight spouses of gay partners to find support and -- yes -- it's a subject a lot of us don't know a great deal about. But my primary goal in reading fiction is entertainment. Learning stuff along the way isn't necessarily a bad thing, but -- in a novel -- when entertainment seems to become secondary to education I get irritated: no matter what the genre or who the audience.

Don't misunderstand, Pretzel Logic is well written. An interesting story told in an engaging way. From the little I know about Rogak, however, the story is at least partly autobiographical. Approaching a tale this close and this personal from the first person is perhaps not the wisest course when creating a work of fiction. I hope that this will not be Rogak's only novel. I look forward to hearing this strong, young voice when it focuses around material entirely fueled by her imagination. | May 1999


Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of several books.