Thank you to Penguin’s First to Read program for this compelling debut novel!
In Impossible Views of the World by Lucy Ives, heroine (or antiheroine?) Stella Krakus, a curator at a renowned art museum in New York, is having a pretty rough week. Her coworker and sometimes friend Paul has disappeared, her coworker and sometimes lover Fred cannot give her what she wants, and her soon-to-be ex-husband Whit is showing up in the most unwelcome of places. She is hitting the dreadful “dead end” point in her career and she’s not even forty, and her glamorous mother Caro wants to talk out of the blue. Then there is the matter of her museum being taken over by a multinational water company that may want to take over the world…
When Stella discovers a 19th-century map to a nonexistent Utopian community in Paul’s desk, she is more than a little intrigued. She is doggedly determined to find out what it is for, who made it, and what Paul was doing with it before he disappeared. As Stella begins making connections with the map, poetry, a modern-day counterfeiting scheme, and phantom art in the archives of the museum, can she get to the bottom of the puzzle and still get her life together before it all spirals out of control?
It is hard to sum up a book like this, where there is so much going on but so much of it rides on the backs of the characters. Stella is what I would almost call a stereotypical millennial (coming from a reviewer who also sees herself as one) and she is not always hard to relate to. Often, this book falls on pretensions. While this does make sense, given that it is written from the point of view of a Masters-educated art curator who was born to an elitist yuppy mother, it is a little off-putting for readers who are not dumb, but somehow don’t understand a lot of the words/references in the book.
The thing I really liked about the book was the prose. I know it is not to everyone’s taste (Ives normally writes poetry, and it comes through), but I kind of liked the flowing prose. It is scattered with colloquial speech, as though to book is being narrated, which again many people don’t like, but I felt it helped break up some of the monotony of the long and word-heavy phrases. (Will select some choice quotes and post them when the book comes out on August 1.)
I did not like.
However, there was a lot of “stuff” about this book that I have a love/hate relationship with. Stella’s character is flawed, which isn’t a bad thing, but it is both easy and hard to relate to her- easy because I often fee the same way she does about jobs and relationships, hard because she often reacts so ambivalently to the bad shit around her that it is hard to even think she has emotions. In fact, the only time strong emotions are shown is when Stella is explaining her emotions of a past event. I get the whole “circumstances have made me numb,” shtick, but this doesn’t come through. The other characters are often caricatures of their given roles: the older, richer lover, the jilted ex husband, the slob boss, and the domineering mother. again, perhaps this is a take on the unreliable narrator trope so prominent in post-modern novels, but it doesn’t translate here.
Then there is the mystery of the plot. I think I was missing something, but I did not understand the resolution to anything except for Stella’s work and love life. It was either an absurdist move of, “nothing is never really resolved,” or I severely missed the point.
And yet despite this, I found found Impossible Views simply impossible to put down. Maybe it is because I identified with the futile feeling of being slightly introverted while working in a competitive field in Manhattan, maybe because I am a little bit pretentious myself, but I was engrossed in Stella’s imperfect little world, filled with elitists, old money, and art mysteries. Three waves, but a caveat that this will not be a read for everyone!