FEBRUARY 12

Throughout his career, novelist T. Coraghessan Boyle has garnered critical acclaim by wedging wildly unconventional stories into sweeping, classical styles (see The Road to Wellville, The Tortilla Curtain). But with a penchant for blending tragedy and hope on the same page (and the sense to pack in plenty of plot twists), Boyle has also managed to capture the imagination of a widespread fan base. With Riven Rock, his seventh novel, the author has set himself another daunting task: telling an early-20th-century love story involving a brash, beautiful feminist and a handsome sexual deviant who spend more than 20 years of marriage totally isolated from each other. Roughly based on actual events, Riven Rock details the lives of Katherine Dexter, the first woman to graduate from MIT (and a smuggler of diaphragms), and Stanley McCormick, youngest son of a millionaire inventor (and a schizophrenic sex maniac). Soon after they are married, Stanley suffers a nervous breakdown and is sent to his own private asylum in California. Still a virgin, Katherine, banned from Stanley’s sight until he gets better, can only wait for him in the outside world. Boyle spreads this tragic romance over two decades and 466 dense pages, but never comes close to stumbling into the snake pit of historical fiction. Once again, Boyle has bet high and beaten the odds. Tickets available only in advance at Olsson’s Books & Records locations. At 7 p.m. at the National Press Club Ballroom, 14th & F Sts. NW. $5. For information call (202) 347-3686. (Sean Daly)