By Sheila Heti
216 pages. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $26.
Sheila Heti’s new novel, “Pure Color,” is a few younger lady who turns right into a leaf. “Unrequited love’s a bore,” Billie Vacation sang. So, it seems, is photosynthesis.
The younger lady’s title is Mira. Her transformation is disorienting, to us if not her. One second the reader is consuming shot after shot of Heti’s robust, acquainted model of espresso. The following we’re sipping as if out of Méret Oppenheim’s fur-lined teacup at MoMA.
“Pure Color” has an intricate philosophical superstructure. Mira, who early within the novel works in a lamp retailer and attends a prestigious faculty for artwork critics — the primary signal that this e-book is a fable — is clearly residing in finish instances.
The warmth is grievous. (“Seasons had turn out to be postmodern.”) The web has splintered comity. (“There was a lot extra hate than any of us had the capability to grasp.”) Every part appears soiled, unhappy and unsuitable. The colours are leeching from issues.
Two relationships maintain Mira. One is with Annie, who lives above a bookstore. They’ve simply met, however Mira is so interested in her that she feels “her rib cage was being pried aside.” Heti has lengthy been a devastating author about sexual magnetism, her prose as delicate because the tip of a conductor’s baton.
The opposite relationship is together with her father. When he dies, she’s bereft. His spirit passes into her. She joins him within the leaf the place they’re, to borrow Milton’s phrase, imparadised in each other’s arms. This relationship is vaguely, the creator implies, sexual as properly.
This all takes place within the first draft of civilization. In preparation for the second draft, “hoping to get it extra proper this time,” Heti writes, “God seems, splits and manifests as three critics within the sky.”
The three critics within the sky are usually not, sadly, Peter Schjeldahl, Deborah Solomon and Jerry Saltz. As an alternative, there’s “a big chicken who critiques from above, a big fish who critiques from the center and a big bear who critiques whereas cradling creation in its arms.”
The place is Heti going with this? It’s sophisticated. “Pure Color” runs its readers alongside a borderline of substance and hallucination. You sense her doing a number of issues directly.
One, she is making room to speak about concepts that curiosity her — the thriller of consciousness, ego versus the true self, inklings of the divine, the character of criticism, the kibbitzing thoughts versus what Emerson known as “the sensible silence.”
Two, she is niftily confounding expectations. Heti’s current novels, “Motherhood” and “How Should a Person Be?,” have been positioned in a field labeled, drearily, autofiction. “Pure Color” breaks that field. This can be a author who — for the second, at any fee — needs to be much less reasonably than extra understood.
Does the novel work? Not solely, not for this reader. “Pure Color” is terribly earnest at instances. It’s static as properly; little or no, past the massive, Gregor Samsa-like reveal, occurs.
Heti’s detractors may most likely put a bottle in the course of a desk and entertain themselves studying strains out of context in suave, poetaster voices. Right here come the nice and cozy jets: “Mira wonders if leaves exist within the human coronary heart”; “What’s the precise distance of affection?”; “In a leaf, there isn’t any query of betrayal.”
And but, she has a method of turning metaphysics to her benefit. There are moments on this novel which may remind you of the scene in “The Actual Factor,” the Tom Stoppard play, when a personality shakes a memento snow globe and a snowstorm fills your complete stage. Similar to that, there’s magic.
Like Iris Murdoch’s novels, Heti’s are philosophically intense, though Heti’s work is pared down the place Murdoch’s was Rabelaisian. Heti owns a pointy axe. In “Pure Color” the wooden chips that fall are as attention-grabbing because the sculpture that will get made.
Heti is concerned with charisma and wonder, the utter unfairness of them. “An individual can waste their entire life, with out even that means to, all as a result of one other individual has a extremely nice face,” she writes. “Did God consider this when he was making the world?”
She will compact political and sophistication antagonisms into small fists of that means. Thus this sentence, which begins sweetly earlier than delivering its sting: “At the least God had given the dawn — to these of us who lived on a cliff.”
As within the current work of Patricia Lockwood, Lauren Oyler and Jia Tolentino, amongst others, there are various felicities of notion about lives spent on-line.
“Pure Color” isn’t helplessly, organically, healingly humorous, as have been a few of Heti’s earlier novels. However there are moments. There’s a fed-up sense that the world has merely turn out to be, for lack of a greater phrase, gross.
International warming looks like “a foul older brother sitting in your face.” The mud within the air? “We stroll by means of our days within the mud of the useless. Two minutes out of the bathe and already we’re filthy. It’s too disgusting to debate.”
The novelist Peter De Vries, requested about his literary ambition, as soon as replied that he needed a mass readership, one giant sufficient for his elite viewers to despise.
Lately, Heti has been approaching that type of huge viewers. There’s no blaming her for wishing, with a novel like “Pure Color,” to be extra elusive.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/07/books/review-pure-colour-sheila-heti.html E-book Evaluation: ‘Pure Color,’ by Sheila Heti