cover image Vivian


Christina Hesselholdt, trans. from the French by Paul Russell Garrett. Fitzcarraldo, $17.95 trade paper (200p) ISBN 978-1-910695-61-6

The secretive, startlingly talented real-life street photographer Vivian Maier, who spent much of her life working as a nanny in Chicago, and whose artistic achievement was recognized only posthumously, becomes a character in Hesselholdt’s fragmentary, imaginative account of what Vivian’s days and dreams might have been like. Born in New York in 1926 to a French mother and Austrian father, the young Vivian witnesses her parents’ poverty and corrosive desperation, which inspire her own lifelong aversion to intimacy and love: “go away affection, go away attachment, go away memories,” she says to herself. As an adult, Vivian can be loving and rigorous with the children she helps raise, and she keeps taking pictures even as she grows increasingly dotty, piling up years’ worth of newspapers and obsessing over contamination and crime. Bringing together features of the essay, literary biography, and historical fiction, Hesselholdt (Companions) foregrounds the tendentiousness of her project through argumentative, metafictional exchanges between the novel’s narrator and Vivian. But the book never quite achieves satisfying form, despite its pervasive humor and some finely sketched scenes of Vivian’s childhood visit to France—it’s the stark descriptions and images most likely to remain with readers: “There is a constant crackling sound, like that of a fire or knives being sharpened... [The sheep] graze year-round, they graze their way into our stomachs, they graze to end up as blood-stained skins over the stone wall.” Though scattered, this volume offers intriguing moments for those craving insight into the life of an artist. (Aug.)