An intense, sumptuous prose-poetry exploration of inspiration, sacrifice and art.
With uninhibited brush strokes, Gale’s impassioned debut offers an extended, self-reflexive allegory of artistic abnegation and creation. The author marries the characterization of prose to the sensuality and linguistic precision of poetry in a form she dubs a “poemella.” She introduces Patrice, a perpetually young but weary 500-year-old muse, to Louis, an artist stripped bare by loss. His family and friends were lost in the Holocaust, while he was secretly carried to freedom in a coffin, alive. Over the course of 10 years, Louis paints Patrice two dozen times, and their relationship is an evolving but always volatile combination of love and war. Patrice has spent centuries defined and limited by the male gaze, ever the nude on the red velvet couch; she’s not unlike the “captive ships slaved to the berth…waiting and waiting to unleash their bodies from land.” In Louis, she finds an artist who promises, “I will do anything you ask. All artists give up something when / they paint. I will give you everything, everything, everything.” Tired of passivity, she demands increasingly more of Louis—“We should sacrifice something of yours that causes you anguish,” she suggests—while also giving him more than she’s ever given to any other painter. Like Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray, Patrice desires immortality and release simultaneously, while Louis “[s]ecretly…mourn[s] his impotence / his inability to create without destruction.” In similarly Wilde-an fashion, Patrice doles out wisdom epigrammatically—“Nothing in art is to be despised” or “Only the unauthentic is ugly in art. If you continue to deceive / yourself, then you deceive art”—while Louis’ painting becomes more surreal. Much like her heroine, Gale strings “her words / with fine needle and thread, each letter a pearl, each line of her T a cross / between reality and fiction.” In Gale’s case, the pearls sometime hang chokingly thick, and the decadence of her imagery occasionally gives way to sickeningly sweet decay. It’s often exhausting but also oddly appropriate to the project’s intense, inward-looking aestheticism.
A baroque, sensual tour de force that elevates art above all else.