THE FACE OF A NAKED LADY: An Omaha Family Mystery

Michael Rips, Author . Houghton Mifflin $24 (192p) ISBN 978-0-618-27352-2

Some time after his father died, Rips traveled with his wife to hometown Omaha to sort through the estate. In the basement of the family manse they found a hidden portfolio of paintings by his father, all featuring a naked black woman. Rips's search to identify this woman, and thereby to understand better his enigmatic father, a reticent, wealthy Republican, forms the frame of this finely wrought book, remarkable not only for its vivid storytelling and magical realist approach—a rarity in nonfiction—but for its intelligent and musical meshing of memoir and philosophy. The latter comes via the ideas of Emmanuel Levinas, a student of both Husserl and Heidegger and a concentration camp internee, who taught that we can know only mystery, but can learn even so. The memoir ambles along the time line of Rips's life, rooted in blood (his grandparents owned a brothel where his father was raised and to which Rips devotes many words) and in land (an Omaha that's a garden of weirdness), twisting up through his father's life and his own with a shower of remarkable stories (the dead man who fell through a ceiling; the optical worker with a prosthetic penis attached to his boot; the millionaire who lives on the street), intertwining with the present and Rips's pursuit of the woman in the paintings. Rips, bemused and appreciative, writes beautiful prose; his book's structure, too, is artful, a steadily surprising phantasmagorical bridge from mystery to mystery. This is a book readers won't forget. (Mar. 1)

Reviewed on: 02/21/2005
Release date: 03/01/2005
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 192 pages - 978-0-618-71189-5
Open Ebook - 208 pages - 978-0-547-97506-1
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