In her sly first novel, Interviewing Matisse or The Woman Who Died Standing Up, author Lily Tuck's two (middle-aged, privileged, female) protagonists spend a rainy night on the phone desperately offering, and evading, chance after chance to connect with each other in a meaningful way. In her new book, Tuck's protagonist wants nothing but to connect; her search for meaning is the heart of this arresting, lyrical, strangely satisfying book.
The center of attention in The Woman Who Walked on Water is Adele, again a middle-aged, unquestionably privileged woman, a wife and mother who's been given "everything" by her successful husband: a house in Connecticut, a horse, big dogs, annual vacations in the Caribbean, the opportunity to do not much more than volunteer at museums and explore alternative therapies. She's also charismatic, lucky and beautiful, a champion swimmer who once ran the New York Marathon, a woman whose station in life has permitted her a certain whimsical nonchalance. Why, her dumbfounded family and friends ask, would someone like Adele give up everything to chase after an Indian guru she met in Chartres Cathedral?
But give up everything she does, thereby encountering cultural and spiritual frustration, confusion, heat, dust, unswimmable water, material sacrifice and loneliness. "Lily! What in the world ever happened to Adele?" asks Adele's friend, the new owner of one of ele's beloved Irish Setters, after Adele disappears. And Lily (the dog) may have as good an idea as anyone's of what has become of Adele. There is no neat ending here: Adele's family, baffled, moves on, her friends pass each other in the street with stray questions, the Caribbean resort enjoys its seasons of rain and sun and blooming vines, all without resolution or assessment.
Did Adele ever find enlightenment? Does it matter? "When you pray for God's grace," ays Ramana Maharishi in the epigraph to Chapter 1, "you are like someone standing neck-deep in water and yet crying for water." Adele's prayer, unexpected but sincere, may have been the point all along. Layering subtle allegory and ancient wisdom with sharp-edged characterization, this enigmatic book portrays a thoroughly believable and memorable quest for a life that transcends even its charmed beginnings. -- Salon
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Again Tuck (Interviewing Matisse: or The Woman Who Died Standing Up) has taken stylistic risks and emerged triumphant. Her stark prose and allegory-inside-allegory narrative tug the reader, like an ancient Eastern conundrum, toward a "realization which is beyond understanding.'' Adele is a Connecticut woman of style, spoiled and lucky, solipsistic in her youth, superstitious now. When she visits Chartres with her husband Howard and two children on the day of the airing of the sacra camisa, she meets an Indian guru, whom she thereafter refers to as "Him,'' in the cathedral. That very day, Adele follows Him to Bombay, where she must learn to do nothing, forget everything. Her chameleon-like mentor gives her a room in His family-filled house but makes no promises, and as Adele lists sins and sheds habits and treasured objects, she moves toward an ascetic purity. He tells her she can't go back to her old life. Yet Adele does go back-to the beach resort her family has always frequented. An accomplished swimmer whose physicality often is part of her spirituality, Adele takes daring marathon swims far out in the Caribbean. The narrator, who has watched from the safety of the shore, is there on the day she doesn't return. Her husband is a material man who now grapples with his loss through incomprehensible dreams; the narrator, once an unheard listener, becomes the voice of enlightenment. This deftly and deceptively simple book is wondrously deep. (Mar.)
Tuck, author of Interviewing Matisse: or, The Woman Who Died Standing Up (1991), leaves much to the imagination in this spare novel about a woman's quest for enlightenment. Indeed, this compelling and enigmatic tale is not unlike a Zen koan, a paradox fashioned to inspire sustained, even circular meditation. We only know Tuck's heroine, Adele, through the eyes of an unnamed narrator, a woman who meets Adele at a Caribbean resort. The narrator, a former dancer, watches Adele and her three Irish setters swim alarmingly far out into the deep turquoise sea, so far out that they all but disappear. After they make their triumphant return, the women and the dogs sit and rest on the bright beach, and Adele tells her new friend about her sojourns in India, where she studied with an uncompromising guru. So taken was Adele with this stern man's teachings, she left her wealthy Connecticut husband and their two children to live the strictly controlled and comfortless life of a disciple. What wisdom did she acquire? What pain and loneliness did she suffer? Tuck lets us draw our own conclusions.
Mesmerizing in its simplicity, this second novel from Tuck (Interviewing Matisse, or, the Woman Who Died Standing Up, 1991) lyrically traces one woman's search for spiritual enlightenment and self-fulfillmentor at least for a life away from suburban Connecticut.
Reminiscent of Alan Lightman's Einstein's Dreams, the story is broken into 76 slim, self-contained, dreamlike chapters. Each of these, randomly strung together, builds an engrossing portrait of Adelea shining star of a woman, so charming and admirable that she draws everyone into her orbit. Her defining feature (and Tuck's recurring theme, repeated in a series of mystic tales on the requirements needed to walk on water) is her courage in the ocean: Bystanders gawk as Adele and her three Irish setters swim out so far they're transformed into dots on the horizon. The narrator is an unnamed friend, an annual companion at the exclusive Caribbean resort Adele and her family frequent, an unabashed admirer of Adele's near-mythic personalty. She pieces together the story of their friendship, of Adele's past, and, most importantly, of Adele's scandalous decision to leave her relatively happy life with husband and two children to follow an Indian guru she meets while vacationing in France. In an attempt to get her home from India, Adele's husband, Howard, promises her a solitary trip to the Caribbean to think things over, sending her dogs down for swimming companionship. It's there that Adele tells about her strange adventures of self-abnegation with the guru, her thinning body and graying hair, and, stranger still, her inability to leave His presence. As each passage shifts into the next, explanations are expected for Adele's abandonment of home and hearth. Instead of answers, though, there come parables of enlightenment that, finally, make a far stronger case for Adele's submission to the guru than any stubbornness or weakness of will.
An exquisite, gem-like treatise on the nature of illuminationa case study of metamorphosis.
From the Publisher
“Tuck is a genius.” —Los Angeles Book Review