Impossible Views of the World by Lucy Ives
Stella Krakus, the charming narrator of Impossible Views of the World, is “having the roughest week in approximately ever,” according to the book jacket. She’s a curator at a fictional yet renowned museum in Manhattan, where she’s stalked by a soon-to-be ex-husband, entangled in a strained romantic relationship with a colleague, and trying to figure out why a coworker has gone missing. A lot happens in the book, but the most rewarding aspect of the novel is the writing itself. So much so that I would read Stella’s perspective on absolutely nothing at all.
Lucy Ives is a poet whose writing exhibits careful word choice and attention to diction. The novel balances the intellectual and the contemporary, often with hilarious results. One reviewer described it as a “highbrow novel [that] dips hilariously low.”
For instance, in describing Stella’s mother, Ives writes:
“Caro has been helped in her endeavor to create a loyal and unilaterally responsive local system and/or moatlike domestic economy by a certain commercial concern, by means of which she has related to, and profited from, the exterior world. This is her print dealership. It is named Basset’s. It exists as a very taupe WordPress site as well as a narrow storefront on Madison near 79th Street, which also means that it is five minutes from my current place of employ. There is little I can do about this.”
It’s the kind of paragraph that you can read again and again, each time finding something new and quirky about the language. In another passage Ives writes that Stella “obtained” the milk from the fridge--the kind of verb choice that would get young writing students skewered in a workshop. But here, it lends itself to the character, who is charming and erudite, if not downright awkward.
The aforementioned passage about Stella’s mother Caro starts at a distance, even dryly, as if taken from the biography of a long-deceased politician. Then we get the simple, straightforward take on it (“This is her print dealership.”) before diving back into Stella’s quirky, contemporary prose: how the dealership “exists as a very taupe WordPress site.” The last sentence poses a dry, reserved, and understated disappointment at having her mother’s business located five minutes from her own: “There is little I can do about this.”
The brilliance of Stella Krakus is that even when we’re supposed to be learning about someone else via her observations of them (a colleague, a former lover, her mother), we’re learning a lot about her. Throughout the course of the book, she opens up, and the projections she posits about others eventually turn toward herself, slowly illuminating her thoughts and questions about the world and her place in it--a thirty-something trying to make sense of where she’s been and where she’s going.
Lastly, a confession: I chose the book because I liked the cover. It looked like a Wes Anderson film met a Carson Ellis illustration; a looming forest, a city skyline, a museum illuminated at night. I judged this book by its cover, and I’m glad I picked it up.