the female gaze. lydia sits at a bar and describes what she sees and imagines, most often: herself, other women. (how’s that for a plot!) a book of portraits, maybe a self-portrait, or maybe a book about portraiture–the ambiguity intentional and often successful as a statement about our success in ever describing completely an identity.
this book’s project as defined by its narrator:
“Lydia (having trouble focusing) returns to her portrait: anecdotal fragments organized–but not too rigorously–with a little space around them to open possibilities” (167).
what saves the book from disintegrating into just fragmentary observations is scott’s fearless and idiosyncratic style. the writing’s syncopated and richly arch music reveals a persistent conflict between empathy and judgment, between a wish to define and a desire to stay open.
some of the best parts of the book come during a chapter whose content is the most traditional: the story of a springtime love affair. besides the quickly flaming and guttering of an april love, the chapter reveals rather strikingly the conflicts within the narrator: anecdotal versus analytical modes; english versus french (“You hate the way being with her makes you think so much in English, you lose the capacity for immediate abstraction that comes with speaking French”); a willingness to be self-critical or vulnerable versus a need to be defiant and judging.
and: the beauty of the writing. scott’s a singular, fierce and unapologetic stylist. at its most courageous it can invoke and then overcome sentimentality. here’s a passage again about that april love affair–a straightforward description of the sweet and deadly swiftness of it:
“Still April. You step outside. The sky is so blue you sense the infinity of dancing air. Around you the jonquils are laughing. Granted, this image is slightly sentimental. You can’t help it, she’s getting you so drunk with the caresses of her big hands, you feel like a giant. You rock your warm crotch against the cold cement, hoping that, with all that affection, she won’t be pressuring you for commitment.
The truth is, already you feel a little trapped. Because of that day she, sitting on the brown sofa in the living-room of that tacky hotel apartment she temporarily rented, knees up to chin, talking on the phone to her lover from Alberta, suddenly declared: ‘I’m in love, Betty.’ You didn’t intend to listen. You couldn’t believe she was putting her main relationship in jeopardy: by no means had you said anything about commitment. Yet, grudgingly, you wondered what makes these young dykes so courageous. Always taking chances. The way she kissed you in that bar, until both of you were floating. Definitely, no fear of flying” (108-9).