Four Way Books, 2012
From Victorian toy theatres to a painting with a mysterious story behind it to a graphic novelist’s battle with the schizophrenia that causes her cartoon characters to march off the page, the novella and six stories in Debra Spark’s The Pretty Girl revolve around artists, artistry, and the magical—sometimes malicious—deceptions they create. With settings that traverse New York’s Lower East Side, Victorian London, Paris, and Switzerland, Spark’s stories twist and turn in mesmerizing ways as they reflect on the fictions we fabricate about and for friends, family, and strangers; in one story, a woman finds her life unexpectedly dramatized on the stage; in another, a couple’s reconnection with a family friend leads to a labyrinth of mysteries and miscommunications.
Spark’s imagination takes her tales to the most unexpected places. In one story, we meet “a tall man with the thin, awkward movements of an albino flamingo.” In another we encounter a character who works “part-time at the Museum of the Astonishing Mind.” In the tour-de-force “A Wedding Story,” we come across Simon Baal Shem, a charming five-inch rabbi who offers life advice in the form of Jewish stories. Spark combines such invention with a strong sense of her characters’ everyday lives, their attempts to make sense of relationships, jobs, and their own selves: “Her marriage, Dana sometimes felt, was an argument about the relative merits of what you did in the world versus how you lived in the world.”
Gritty and elusive, Spark’s stories work like the best magic tricks, seeming to defy the laws of reality even as they deftly extend and reinvigorate those laws. Readers who love magical realism, illusions, Jewish literature, and art, will be captivated by Spark’s wonderfully textured The Pretty Girl.
“Reading this book, I felt the world I live in melt away. Each story is so different from the next, each character a little code to be cracked, each time period and geographical location completely convincing, each life thoroughly absorbing. A strange, illuminating, and compelling book. Like falling into a cloud.”
“The Pretty Girl ends exactly as it should (a rare feat), and yet I hated for the novella to be over. Spark is a writer both to admire and to enjoy. Among the pleasures: her sly wit, her deep affection for her characters, her mastery for dialogue, her curiosity about the world, her sheer invention, and the way she seems to effortlessly thread the strands of her stories together. This collection is wonderful company.”
“Spark’s imaginative collection of stories (after the novel Good for the Jews) offers quirky surprises at every turn, as ordinary characters transcend their mundane lives. In the titular novella, “The Pretty Girl,” Midwesterner Andrea feels a special bond to her Great Aunt Rose and a painting, hanging in her aunt’s Spartan New York apartment, of a “laughing, young woman with two raspberry-colored gloves,” who seemed to say to her beholder, “Oh, you silly. Go away.” Like Spark’s other characters, Andrea is charmingly plain, making her fascination with the alluring painting (which Andrea calls “The Pretty Girl”) and her reticent aunt an engaging narrative force. In the wake of Rose’s death, Andrea discovers the source of the painting, and the story of a great love and its surprising consequences come to light. In “Conservation,” a young man destined for stardom at a news network returns home years later as a disturbing enigma in dress and attitude, unsettling the tranquility of former friends. And in the surreal “A Wedding Story,” socially inept 20-something Rachel Rubinstein finds a tiny, sagacious rabbi in an old chocolate egg discovered among her deceased grandmother’s effects—”‘Shalom,’ he called, half in warning, so she wouldn’t bite further.” The numerous shifting realities and transformations in these stories might devolve in the hands of a lesser writer, but Spark’s controlled craft keeps the narrative tight and the pages turning.”
Four Way Books announces the publication of The Pretty Girl, the fourth work of fiction by Debra Spark. Publicity measures include readings, conference & festival appearances, and radio appearances. For information, contact Four Way Books.