Possessed By the Flesh

In a claustrophobic novel, the hero -- and the reader -- are captive to an erotic obsession

Writer Robert Olen Butler comes into this long, claustrophobic novel of erotic obsession with a powerful charge of literary momentum, including a Pulitzer Prize last year for a fine short story collection, A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain. He's still on his feet at the end of They Whisper (Holt; 333 pages; $22.50), but he's moving slowly, like a man who has just bushwhacked through 20 miles of tidal marsh and who needs a hot shower and breakfast. Guessing how this valiant effort will be received is chancy. Is a reader close enough to the hero's fleshy predicament to feel...

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