Invisible Man at the Window|
by Monique Proulx, Matt Cohen,
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|All about Love
by Eileen Manion
THE BIG BANG." THAT IS how Max, portrait painter and narrator of The Invisible Man at the Window, refers to the accident (20 years before the novel opens) that left him a paraplegic. Although he thinks he has come to terms with his altered state, images erupt to remind him that he was not formerly confined to Rocinante, his wheelchair: "I ran ... my friend Lady my friend Purple by my sides ... we ran without realizing how extraordinary it is to run ... the whole body exploding in a state of grace and weightlessness."
Now Max lives in Montreal, in a loft on the seventh floor of a condemned building, where he believes he is safe: "The past cannot catch up to me here." Nonetheless, the past does move in on Max when Lady, his former lover, rents a loft opposite where she hopes to write "The Love Story," and his mother renovates and occupies the rooms next door.
Alhough Max rejects involvement with these women, wanting nothing more than to be a marginal observer, an invisible man, his heightened visibility is as obvious to him as his centrality in the group of artists and bohemians orbiting around him is to the reader. One by one, Max paints them in words as he attempts to capture them on canvas: Gerald Mortimer, successful, misanthropic sculptor, who submits to Max's whims and sadistic demands; Julius Einhorne, obese landlord, whose love for a little girl enrages her father; Laurel, a young man who is looking for his biological mother; Pauline, his adoptive mother, who behaves like a woman rejected. Max views others with "the voracity of an eye that sees ... without prejudice," but on himself he turns a punishing irony to avoid the self-pity ("poor little doggie Max")
he fears would destroy his will to live.
Relentlessly Max tries to find "a colour that would be entirely mine," in which to paint his "characters in a tableau." But he estimates his abilities self-deprecatingly: "I have a small talent. For it to flower, it must be pushed hard." Only when Max confronts his former love can he make the breakthrough toward which he has been striving: "Cassel earth ... the colour of fermenting soil ... ugliness become subjective beauty, the colour bodies need to drag themselves out of the silt and begin to live."
Almost to the end of the novel, Monique Proulx maintains some of the suspense she builds up concerning the interrelationships of her characters. I read it with the intense commitment and absorption of a whodunit.
In Quebec, Proulx is most famous for Le sexe des etoiles, a novel that she adapted into an award-winning film. With The Invisible Man at the Window, Proulx has written a stunning novel about love -- its many varieties as well as its many evasions and denials -- and about the artistic process and its connection with the artist's inner life. The novelist Matt Cohen has produced an excellent translation that will introduce an English audience to a writer well worth reading.