cover image The Anatomy Lesson

The Anatomy Lesson

Nina Siegal. Doubleday/Talese, $25.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-385-53836-7

Siegal (A Little Trouble With the Facts) sets her splendid, gory second novel in 1623 in Amsterdam, where a thief's execution occasions a celebration, evoking "bloodlust" throughout the city on "Justice Day." Some of the narrators are famous men: Rembrandt, who painted Anatomical Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, on which the novel is based, and Descartes, who is "%E2%80%98search[ing] for the soul in the body.'" Siegal gives voice not only to artists and philosophers, but also to the condemned man Adriaen Adriaenszoon, among others. Adriaen pleads, "%E2%80%98[T]here is no evil in my breast.'" The evil, Siegal hints, might well lie in a place where Justice Day is received with such pleasure. Adriaen's pregnant lover, Flora, is the only person clamoring for possession of the man's body out of love%E2%80%94to give it a "Christian burial" after she fails to convince a clerk at the town hall to issue a pardon. Alive, Adriaen's body is "beaten and branded" by his Calvinist father and by several Dutch towns. As a mere object, people want his corpse "for science" and "for art." "All of us sought his flesh," Rembrandt muses. Through masterful use of subtle details, embroidered into beautiful writing, Siegal suggests that art and violence often intertwine. Agent: Marly Rusoff, Marly Rusoff and Associates. (Mar.)