MADELEINE BRAND, host:
From NPR News, it's DAY TO DAY.
For centuries, writers have been fascinated with the relationship between artists and models. That sexually charged bond is at the heart of an intriguing new novel. And book critic Veronique deTurenne has this review.
Ms. VERONIQUE DETURENNE (Los Angeles writer and book critic): Begin again, that's what Danzig, an aging artist, tells his students each time they face a fresh canvas in Blue Nude, Elizabeth Rosner's lovely and sometimes frustrating second novel. It's what Danzig longs to do himself. The son of a Nazi storm trooper, he wears his father's karmic burden like a hair shirt. Danzig's glory days are behind him. He's blocked, a bully, lost without access to his art.
And then, Merav. A young and lovely Israeli enters the studio and takes off her clothes. She's an artist's model. So good at what she does it's an art form in itself. An entire roomful of indifferent students comes alive. More important, Danzig comes alive. He's in desperate need, and Merav's gift of stillness could be his salvation.
You think you know where Rosner's story was heading, except it doesn't, not right away. There are too many detours. Too much looking to the past. But it is a great set up. You learn Merav is the granddaughter of a holocaust survivor. She barely looks at Danzig as she enters the studio, yet somehow, in his accent, in the hunger of his gaze, Merav can feel the intersection of their shared pasts.
For those first several moments she isn't sure she can manage to stay in the room, Rosner writes. She's stunned by this almost primal response, her coiled readiness for flight. But, of course, she stays. We wish they would both stay. That this great beginning would be fleshed out in the detail it deserves. Instead, Rosner herself, begins again. She jumps back to Merav's childhood on a kibbutz and to her stint in the Israeli army.
We get details of Danzig's tortured childhood, and the weird and awful love affairs that have turned him into such a creep. The flashbacks are meant to be filled with drama, but they feel muted. In Merav and Danzig, Rosner has created characters so vivid and compelling that you don't really care how they got into that studio, you just want to know what happens next.
Here's Rosner describing Merav as she poses.
“She tilts her face towards the invisible sun in the high windows. Here's a truck rumbling past. Its rush of air. Danzig's arms sweep strokes of darkness onto the white page, bringing the shape of her body into the arc of his embrace. She feels herself translated into charcoal, edged with dust.”
Reading Blue Nude, you can revel in the language with which Rosner, a gifted poet, pushes Danzig and Merav toward the moment that frees them both. So slog through the back-story and savor the present.
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BRAND: That's Los Angeles writer Veronique deTurenne. She reviewed the novel Blue Nude by Judith Rosner. You can browse DAY TO DAY's summer reading list at our Website npr.org.
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BRAND: NPR's DAY TO DAY continues.