Julian Rios. Alfred A. Knopf, $25 (240pp) ISBN 978-0-375-40823-6
Spanish writer R os (Loves That Bind; Larva), nightmarish images drift before us and then vanish, leaving behind only the possibility that we might find ourselves reflected in them. When we first encounter Mons, the painter who represents the moving center of the book, he is in the hospital, recovering from a wild night out in Berlin with friends during which he had hallucinations that will later inspire his work. The book builds toward the creation of a series Mons calls Monstruary, in which he paints acquaintances and people he sees on the street as if they were beasts, consumed by their obsessions. The individuals who attract Mons's gaze are indeed a motley bunch, all similarly afflicted. One Calvinoesque architect has created an entire book of imaginary cities. A Joyce scholar obsessively studies a young woman's automatic writing in a notebook with Joyce's picture on the cover, finding in it allusions to the Irish writer's life--which are poignant for him because his wife is named Joyce. Many of the figures are women Mons has loved: some models, some artists, one wealthy patron who may actually be an actress only pretending to be a patron. The paintings are filled with dark eroticism, usually with strong sadomasochistic overtones. Yet the works are never really shocking, perhaps because we never actually see them, perhaps because R os's meditative approach dulls their effect. The novel has an extremely ornate, languorous style that can be as thick as syrup but that for the most part is pleasurably decadent. The progress and fate of Mons's artwork constitutes the only story line, but for the right reader, the hallucinatory trajectory could be revelatory. (Mar. 16) Forecast: If the cover--showing a nude woman, from the back--on the galley holds, browsers will pick up this novel from the shelves. R os's high literary rep and strong reviews could do the rest in making this a word-of-mouth hit.
Reviewed on: 03/01/2001