cover image It is Wood, It is Stone

It is Wood, It is Stone

Gabriella Burnham. One World, $26 (224p) ISBN 978-1-9848-5583-1

Burnham’s captivating debut is told in a surprisingly seamless second person. Linda, the narrator, tells her husband, Dennis, about the year the American couple spent in Brazil, after Dennis was awarded an academic appointment at the University of São Paulo. There, after weeks of hapless depression, Linda is invigorated when she meets an enticing woman named Celia (a person who uses “romance as gunpowder”) in a bar. Later, she returns home, giddy with desire for Celia, and destroys Dennis’s favorite suit, the anxious logic of this action meted out by Burnham with painstaking clarity. At her most gawky and strange, Linda is reminiscent of a character out of Clarice Lispector’s oeuvre. Observant and obsessive, Linda feels the pulse of desire (“No matter how steady I trained my mind to be, my body reigned over all”). Throughout is the mysterious presence of Dennis and Linda’s São Paulo housekeeper, Marta, whose competence intimidates Linda. Burnham dazzles by exploring the overlapping circles of need and care though tensions of race, privilege, sexuality, history, and memory. Thanks to Burnham’s precise, vivid understanding of her characters, this stranger-comes-to-town novel has the feel of a thriller as it illuminates the obligations of emotional labor. Burnham pulls off an electrifying twist on domestic fiction. Agent: Marya Spence, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (June)