BEDSIDE MANNERS by Luisa Valenzuela (Serpent's Tail: $12.99; 122 pp.) Occasionally, one comes across a piece of writing that feels as if it had been stuck in the wrong format like a Rottweiler with painted toenails. Entire books of nonfiction sometimes would have been more effective as a magazine article, and (though this is more rare) I've seen characters in a short story practically begging for the easy spaciousness of a novel. There is nothing really wrong with the format of Luisa Valenzuela's, "Bedside Manners," but, still, one may get the feeling that somewhere inside this novel, a really wonderful one act play is dying to be seen.
Valenzuela's surreal, farcical, story takes place in a woman's room at a country club somewhere in Latin America. The woman has returned to her homeland after many years to find it is about to be taken over by right-wing militia who have set up their training grounds directly outside her window. Groups of soldiers convene in her room, while disembodied, hungry hands appear from under the bed to steal her food. The woman is very passive through most of this. "And she's just about to look under the bed to unveil the mystery, with that old, fearful childhood feeling of wanting and not wanting to look. I never do any cooking anyway, so don't worry, she says again, to placate possible monsters. . . ." "Bedside Manners" is a novel where identities change again and again, confusion reigns and everyone seems trapped and unhappy. Sort of like government.