Books: L.A. Conversational

Jane Smiley tosses a group of Hollywood characters into a marathon of beguiling talk and explicit sex

Early in Jane Smiley's sinuous new novel, we hear Max, a Hollywood director whose career is ebbing, describe his idea for a new film: "A man and a woman are alone in their room for 90 minutes, and they make love and have a conversation." His friend Stoney tells him to forget it. "Max," he says, "that's called pornography." Nope, says Max. "Not if they have a conversation."

That's a pretty good description of Ten Days in the Hills (Knopf; 445 pages), a leisurely stretch of talking and rutting that takes its structure from The Decameron and a good part of...

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