Paris, 7 A.M.
Liza Wieland. Simon & Schuster, $26.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-5011-9721-5
Striking imagery and sharp, distinctive language shimmer in Wieland’s haunting fifth novel (following Land of Enchantment), which imagines American poet Elizabeth Bishop as a young woman. It opens in 1930 as the Vassar student struggles with her attraction to women, alcohol’s seductive comfort, and her literary gifts. In 1934, she graduates from college and learns that her mother, who fantasized about killing Elizabeth and was permanently committed to a psychiatric institution when Bishop was five, has died. Grappling with loss, loneliness, and longing for the mothering she never received, in 1936, Bishop travels with her friend Louise Crane to Paris despite news of Hitler’s rising threat. They rent the apartment of American expat Clara de Chambrun, whose only daughter died at 19. Bishop is ambivalent about Clara’s need for a daughter figure, but when the older woman enlists her help in rescuing two Jewish infants being smuggled out of Germany, she can’t refuse. Wieland makes scrupulous use of known fact in crafting her fictional narrative, but neither rehashes familiar biography nor attempts literal interpretations of Bishop’s poems or life. Instead, her dreamlike juxtapositions of the searing and the sensual probe the artistic process, the power of the mother-daughter bond, and the creative coming-of-age of one of America’s greatest poets. Agent: Kerry D’Agostino, Curtis Brown, Ltd. (June)
Reviewed on: 04/04/2019