The Discovery of Light

J. P. Smith, Author Viking Books $20 (256p) ISBN 978-0-670-83903-2
This slim but ambitious novel, digressing continually into meditations on the relations between life and art, will both enchant with its spare, limpid prose and exasperate with its evasions. Smith ( The Blue Hour ; The Man from Marseille ) circles around the kernel of a story: novelist David Reid brings his new wife Kate, a beautiful, blonde British editor/translator, to his Massachusetts home. Two years later, on a visit to New York, Kate either leaps or falls to her death under a subway train. Her unfinished translation of a work by French novelist Marc Rougemont, now in New York, stirs David's suspicion. He stalks the enigmatic Marc to his hotel room, accuses him of having had an affair with Kate and threatens him with a knife. Either he kills him or he does not, since in this narrative David is composing the web of his life as he might design a work of fiction. Intermittently, David reflects on several Vermeer paintings, including one of a woman weighing gold and pearls in a scale and another of a woman reading a letter by a window. The mystery of the women's thoughts causes him to query how much the artist (``by nature a voyeur'') can understand of his materials or an individual even of his most cherished relationships. Patterns form in his experience, as they do in lace, musical fugues or fiction. Meeting blonde Denise, David understands the pull of an adulterous liaison. himself becomes a guilty adulterer. Scenes of deja vu proliferate, hinting that life may rival art with echoing configurations of its own. While the descriptions of the Vermeers are beautifully rendered, their link to David's story in this involute work is never satisfactorily clarified. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 01/01/1992
Release date: 01/01/1992
Paperback - 256 pages - 978-0-14-015275-3
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