By Maggie Nelson. (Wave Books, $14 paperback)
Tue Dec 15 2009
Time Out Ratings :<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5
It’s been said that a great writer can turn any subject into an engaging book, but most authors still choose inherently dramatic themes, and few approach the static or plotless. But this is precisely what Bluets, Maggie Nelson’s arty, smart and gorgeous meditation on the color blue, sets out to do, and it is alarming how much drama she creates from a subject so apparently simple. In 240 entries, Nelson relates a history of blue from philosophical, zoological and literary perspectives, all the while weaving in bits of memoir and emotional rumination. Through this collage, she broadens the definition of blue from a merely visual phenomenon to a vehicle for the divine.
Wittgenstein, Goethe, Gertrude Stein and Yves Klein are just a few of the writers and artists whose work Nelson uses to uncover the potency of the color. But their true function in the book is to establish a stage on which the author can dance: It’s her memoiristic passages that pirouette most gracefully. Though concerned with perception and aesthetics, Bluets is also a book about loss, and many of the entries are addressed to an ex-lover, a man Nelson recalls in vivid sexual detail. Cutting back and forth between thoughts about blue and recollections of the ex, she blends the two so seemlessly that there are moments when we forget which is which. The lover becomes both the embodiment and the antithesis of her beloved color. She knows that both blue and the disloyal man are “constitutionally incapable of loving [her] back,” and admits: “We fuck well because he is an active top and I am a passive bottom.” Here, it is easy to insert a blue sky in place of the lover she is struggling to forget. As the inescapable azure atmosphere hangs above Nelson, she remains captive to its seduction. Her words are what finally allow her to escape from his power.—Catherine Lacey
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