Bestselling author and poet Elizabeth Rosner's second novel (following THE SPEED OF LIGHT) is a rousing tour-de-force --- a window into the artistic lives of two strangers whose pasts, presents and futures are irrevocably intertwined. With delicate yet persistent hands, Rosner explores a multilayered landscape of loss, unrequited desire, passion and isolationism, and weaves a dark and textured story out of what she finds. Her characters are larger than life at times --- bursting with their own specific energies, passions and identities, and righteous in their attempts to make meaning out of the world around them. Yet, they are also nameless receptacles of the universal experience --- mere forms chasing the same questions that have been chased and debated for centuries.
BLUE NUDE is the story of the complex union between two artists in San Francisco --- the elder and once-prominent German painter turned professor, Danzig, and Merav, a youthful Israeli beauty and former art student who makes a living working as a nude model. The two have deep and guarded pasts, both dating back to lives in foreign countries, separate yet intricately connected. Although they are many years apart in both age and experience, their sordid histories haunt their present lives and profoundly influence their decisions, actions and relationships.
Danzig was born immediately following World War II, to an abusive father who played a major role (hinted at, but never explicitly named) in the destruction of the Jews during the war; a painfully submissive mother who did nothing to stand between her violent husband, his post-occupation sullied reputation, and his undeserving offspring; and a depressed and guilt-ridden sister who took her own life when Danzig was seven years old. As he grew older, Danzig became increasingly aware of the events that shaped his upbringing and was disgusted by his father's vulgarity, his mother's lack of self-esteem and inability to protect herself or her children, and his sister's resignation to what she viewed as life's insurmountable injustices. He found solace in painting, however, and eventually left home permanently to relocate to San Francisco in order to explore his art more freely.
Also an expatriate, Merav spent her childhood on a kibbutz in Tel-Aviv and lived with her mother Isabelle and her grandmother Esther, who miraculously survived persecution by the Germans. She learned how to explore herself and life's richness through painting and discovered at a young age the beauty of expression without words. Her neighbor, Yossi, was her best friend, confidant and eventual lover, and taught her that passion could be contained or exchanged in a single touch. They both served their two-year stint in the Israeli army, traveling the vast desert learning (or, in her case, trying not to learn) to kill. Tragically, he was killed after the bus he was on exploded because of an undetected bomb --- an incident that broke her heart (especially because he had just informed her that he was about to marry someone else) and pushed her to move away from a country riddled with death to one where she could begin anew.
In a way, their chance meeting in his classroom in San Francisco --- he, the art teacher, and she, the substitute nude model --- serves as the gateway to their mutually independent yet intertwined rebirth, and infuses life into the deeper, humming themes that resonate throughout BLUE NUDE. Later, as she poses for him, exposed and naked in his studio, he is finally able to move past and through his wrecked childhood, the damaging and ill-fated affairs with two previous models, and resulting period of maddening artistic blockage, to a space ripe with inspiration, confidence and inner peace. She, too, transcends the consequences of her upbringing, Yossi's death, and failed marriage to a photographer who loved her only as a sum of photographable body parts, and walks willingly into a future alive with hope. "She does not want to live as if about to be annihilated. She will not accept that as the truth." Neither will he. Life begets Art begets Life.
BLUE NUDE is an exquisite and quietly beautiful story, told by a writer with surefire talent, grace and profound insight into human frailty. Elizabeth Rosner's knack for waxing poetic is witnessed on every page --- her sentences, deliciously thick with implication and symbolism; her characters, flawed yet persistent, each grappling with life's choices in his or her own way. There are a number of captivating moments that readers will relish and languish on, as they burrow through chapters that jump back and forth in time in each character's life, and shift from perspective to perspective. Of course, the ubiquitous relationship between Art, Truth and Life pulsates throughout these well-drawn pages, offering up many burning and delightfully unanswerable questions so vital to the human experience. Stunning.
Reviewed by Alexis Burling on December 22, 2010