Impossible Views of the World. Lucy Ives.

Ives, Lucy. Impossible Views of the World. Penguin Random House, New York, 2017. F;02/19.

Lucy Ives’s short story Bitter Tennis in Granta online recently really got my attention. There were dreamy elements of Murakami, some of the charm of the best of Ondaatje, and a framework of  Jordan Peterson ethics in her exploration of reality and illusion in relationships and life. In the middle of a narrative where she, an editor, meets with an aspiring author to criticize his work (also somehow avoiding getting distracted by the fact that she played tennis as a child and he wants to show her his daughter’s tennis playing) she says: “I have to pause for a moment here because I want to tell you something about myself before we get to (the narrative.)” She describes a dream or some interpretation of an “ancient story” which could be biblical. Our character understands that “as this ancient story purports to show, everyone has, at some level, chosen the life they live. The (ancient) story also claims …that none of us could avoid choosing.”

Perfect: story within a story, ambiguous multiply-enticing relationship, blasé literary sophistication, straight-shooting about the inner life, and responsibility. So of course I’m going to go looking for this same thing in this author’s longer fiction and I started Impossible Views.

Well its tone is much much different. The inner life and responsibility are more implied than openly investigated. A struggling art history academic working in what amounts to the New York Metropolitan Museum drops down a rabbit hole after an enigmatic colleague commits suicide leaving a trail of physical and historic artifacts that lead to a transcendence of the imagination which may also be real. There is sexual, marital, and maternal family intrigue, and also for me a beside-the-point personal struggle of the main character, carrying a superficial plot. This complexity plus some great writing had me on the edge of willing suspension of disbelief (hoping against hope that the author (and I) were onto something important) pretty well through to the end.

Such a familiar pattern: a really great short story leads me to a novel that’s not quite as gripping and expansive of the imagination. Lucy Ives is obviously academically smart, can write alongside any but the very best, and is reaching in her imagination for something exciting and wonderful. But the reach exceeds the grasp in this novel for me. Like a lot of other young authors, I’m intrigued and impressed and can’t wait for her fist to close on, and then open to show, what only really thrilling long fiction can do.

I’m staying tuned. 9.2 (aspirationally incorporating the evanescent ideas in the short story)/8.9.

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 40 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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