cover image Angels Go Naked a Novel

Angels Go Naked a Novel

Cornelia Nixon. Counterpoint LLC, $32 (304pp) ISBN 978-1-58243-062-1

Although subtitled ""a novel,"" Nixon's (Now You See It) delicately constructed new book is really a collection of 11 related short stories. Skillfully interwoven, they tell of violinist Margy Rose, from her adolescence in Boston through her stormy relationship with marine biologist and perpetual student Webster Unutshimakitshigamink, a name he adapted from the Algonquin because it means ""he lives beside the sea."" In Boston, Chicago and California's Bolinas Bay, these highly educated young people and their friends inhabit a milieu reminiscent of that in the novels of the late Laurie Colwin and of Catherine Schine, though Nixon's world is darker, lonelier. Margy, who has always been haunted by nightmares--including one about an abortion she had in college--begins to dream obsessively about having a child. Meanwhile, Webster, who is generally repulsed by people despite having a few friends, is obsessed with the degradation of the environment. Before meeting Margy, he swore off women; afterward, he strives for a life that, like his wedding, is without family or guests; briefly, it is without Margy, who leaves him when he won't give her the baby she desires. Nixon's clear and vivid prose is somewhat mocking, from her first story (where she pokes fun at the infatuation of Margy and her high-school friends for Freud and poetry) to her last (with its adroit one-sentence put-down of a callous medical specialist); like the breeze that Webster smells coming from Lake Michigan, the narrative has ""a certain poisoned sweetness."" Despite the author's ironic distance, however, Webster and Margy emerge as vivid characters who command affection and compassion; by the novel's conclusion, one can only hope they will find their way through the second half of their lives more joyfully than they traversed the first. (Apr.)