Optic Nerve

Maria Gainza, trans. from the Spanish by Thomas Bunstead. Catapult, $25 (208p) ISBN 978-1-948226-16-5
Gainza’s phenomenal first work to be translated into English is a nimble yet momentous novel about the connection between one woman’s personal life and the art she observes. The book is composed of episodes in the life of María, who lives in Buenos Aires, often beginning with an anecdote about someone she knows before brilliantly finding an associative link to a work of art, then delving into the backstory of the artwork and the artist before coming full circle to how it all makes sense in Maria’s life. In one chapter, María’s observation of the sea prompts her to consider Gustave Courbet’s seascapes (“his water was fossil-like: a slab of malachite rent hard across the middle”), before connecting the thread to her enigmatic cousin. In another chapter, María’s fear of flying keeps her from attending a prestigious art convention and leads her to mull over Henri Rousseau’s ability to venture beyond his limitations to shape avant-garde art. Tsuguharu Foujita’s artistic decline is juxtaposed against María’s longtime friend Alexia’s unrealized artistic potential. There are many pleasures in Gainza’s novel: its clever and dynamic structure, its many aperçus (“happiness interests only those who experience it; nobody can be moved by the happiness of others”), and some of the very best writing about art around. With playfulness and startling psychological acuity, Gainza explores the spaces between others, art, and the self, and how what one sees and knows form the ineffable hodgepodge of the human soul. The result is a transcendent work. (Apr.)
Reviewed on : 01/17/2019
Release date: 04/09/2019
Genre: Fiction
Compact Disc - 978-1-68457-284-7
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