cover image @Expectations


Kit Reed. Forge, $22.95 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-312-87486-5

Love-starved Internet trawlers, beware, warns this provocative and amusing cautionary tale about chat-room romances by versatile fiction writer Reed. Stuck in sleepy Brevert, S.C., with her husband, Lt. Col. Charlie Wilder, USMC, and two hostile stepkids, Jenny Wilder becomes obsessed with life online at the imaginary offshore island StElene, ""a sprawling resort... where Jenny can shed her problems and walk free."" She can also shed her name (online she's Zan) and her persona as responsible wife and careerwoman. Days, Jenny is a therapist, bored by her neurotic Southern patients and homesick for her loft on lower Broadway. Nights, she's at StElene, where ""you are what you type"" and where she and ""Reverby"" are in love. They fraternize with friends in the ballroom, but disdain enemies like ""Mireya,"" ""Rev's"" ex-lover, and ""Azeath,"" a self-styled demonic figure; both try to help ""Lark,"" a 19-year-old college dropout whose parents want to evict him. Every night, they retreat to the Dak Bungalow, their private place, where they make love by what ""Reverby"" calls ""performative utterance."" Whereas Jenny's Charlie is ""relentlessly physical,"" ""Reverby"" knows ""how to make love to her soul."" Long nights in virtual reality begin to affect Jenny's daytime existence; her professional partner notes her distraction and warns her about the dangers of Internet obsession. But Jenny no longer sees the line between fantasy and reality. Suddenly, ""Reverby"" disappears from StElene and Jenny, accompanied by the desperate ""Lark,"" goes in search of him, embarking on a disastrous real-life journey. Reed makes Jenny's slide into an online world seem nearly plausible in this up-to-the-minute alternative love story. (Sept.)