cover image A Working Woman

A Working Woman

Elvira Navarro, trans. from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney. Two Lines (PGW, dist.), $14.95 trade paper (200p) ISBN 978-1-931883-65-8

Navarro’s brilliant mindbender of a novel opens in Madrid with the story of Susana, who describes her physical affect as “red-faced blondeness, my coming-apart-at-the-seams way of speaking, and a pair of eyes whose futile, terrifying ship-wreck said it all.” Susana places a personal ad for a sexual partner and winds up with a gay dwarf named Fabio with whom she plunges into an affair almost nihilistic in its intensity. Susana tells all this to her roommate Elisa, a struggling writer and editor with problems of her own. Elisa spends her nights exploring the ruined grounds of an old prison and the dilapidated outskirts of Madrid, and her days editing a ponderous memoir by the widow of a famous Spanish writer, all the while fending off an undisclosed psychiatric ailment. As she tries to adjust to her new medication, which distorts her already fragile sense of reality, Elisa becomes increasingly fascinated by the more willful and dramatically unhinged Susana, especially after she discovers her roommate’s curious pastime of making idiosyncratic maps of Madrid, and becomes fixated on the idea of exhibiting Susan’s work at a gallery. Together, Susana and Elisa set out to combine their artistic endeavors, only to become ensconced in each other’s madness in the process. Navarro’s exceptional novel defies easy interpretation, culminating in a breathtaking and surprising ending. The author is especially skilled at crafting the details and peculiarities of her two characters’ psyches, and the result is a singular novel of art, friendship, and lunacy. (Oct.)