Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Nude Against the Light
I am finalizing a new novel, involving my favorite artist, Pierre Bonnard.
Pierre Bonnard’s later paintings show women’s bodies bathed ecstatically in light. When 30-year-old Isabel Grayfeather Girard finds a mysterious painting signed by Bonnard among her Aunt Sophie’s possessions in her isolated adobe house in Taos, New Mexico, she sets out in quest of its provenance, drawn by the light and luminous color which seems to have gone out of her own life. The trail takes Isabel and her increasingly repressive boyfriend Max Leonard to Switzerland, to a plateau high in the French Alps, and to Bonnard’s house outside Paris just down the road from Monet’s Giverny. What she learns about her aunt’s past, intertwined as it was with that of the artist and the model whose death his family tried to cover up, will bring Isabel in the end to the source of that ecstatic light.
The cottonwoods served as shade for the house, and for half of the patio enclosed by high adobe walls in the same pinkish tone. Isabel parked next to the wood shed, usually piled high with piñon logs and pieces of bark and dry evergreen boughs for kindling, but now more than half empty. She had to go through the patio to get into the house; the door was tucked away inside, the whole house, despite the striking vistas of the high desert, inward-looking. Isabel remembered as she did each time again as soon as she went though the carved gate and entered the space she loved so well—seeing the richness of lovely full-blown yellow-hearted pink roses on wooden trellises against the one wall of the house which had no windows, upon which the others looked—where it was she had come by her passion for that flower above all. It had been in her since she was little, visiting her Aunt Sophie for the first time. (She remembered her hand in her father’s, nothing more.) It had never occurred to her before how odd it was that Sophie should have filled the patio of her Taos home with roses, which properly belonged in some lush rainy old-world place, and not with something native and desert-dwelling, like the big splashy sunflowers Georgia O’Keeffe famously painted. She only knew that her aunt revelled in them, as she herself did. It was another bond between them.
Taking her shoes off at the door as she’d been taught, Isabel entered the house warily, expecting to feel ghosts moving through the five rooms. To feel the haunting absence that was just beginning to hit her. A wave of sadness came over her with the odor of overripe pears in the little tiled kitchen—a woven basket from one of the local tribes, willow, Isabel thought she remembered, and maybe Otawi, held the weeks’ forgotten fruit. She found a white plastic garbage bag under the sink, where they always were, and threw the pears away. They had left a mark of green mold in the basket, a mark of passing.