The noted surrealist artist Tanning debuts, at age 91, with a modestly successful parable of the youthful imagination.
The essential difficulty is that, although Tanning’s stunning art frequently hinted at her subjects’ inner lives, her prose only clumsily evokes those psychological interiors, largely through oblique visual metaphors. Young and wealthy Nadine and Albert, charmed but somehow disaffected lovers, are invited for a weekend stay at Windcote, the desert ranch of mysteriously engaging widower Raoul Meridian. With him, his young daughter Destina and her governess Nelly live in a trancelike timelessness. (No wall calendars in the breakfast nook for them.) Nadine and Albert are to be two members of a larger dinner party at Meridian’s ranch, and as the preparations churn ahead the reader learns of Destina’s mysterious friends, her collection of eyeballs, and her mercurial behavior toward the doting Nelly. Also introduced is Raoul’s “laboratory,” where he makes magical and powerful things that are sometimes sent by mail to other places. After the dinner, Albert and Nadine end up on a hallucinogenic vision quest in the desert. Raoul is upset that the lovely Nadine has eluded him, which serves as a prelude to his own dreamlike visions; Albert ends up tossed over a ledge, and Nadine is jumped by a wild creature that gouges out an eye and brings it to Destina. Tanning is at her best establishing the environment of the ranch, a residence evidently drawn from her own memories of Arizona, but her first fiction suffers from a meandering plot, transparent characters, and occasionally purple dialogue.
Not far-out enough to be surrealistic, not grounded enough to be compelling.