Friday, January 2, 2015

Visible City by Tova Mirvis

In a recent article for the New York Times, author Tova Mirvis speaks candidly about her divorce from her husband and from her faith.

I stood before the panel of rabbis, waiting to have a religious divorce conferred upon me. I was dressed as the Orthodox Jewish woman I was supposed to be, modestly, in a below-the-knee navy skirt and buttoned cardigan. But I felt exposed. 'What kind of shameful woman,' I imagined the rabbis thinking, 'leaves her marriage; what kind of mother uproots her life?'

 It felt impossible that any of them could understand why, a month shy of my 40th birthday, after almost 17 years of marriage and three children, I had upended the foundations of my life. I was barely able to believe it myself.

Similarly, the main protagonist of Mirvis' latest novel, Visible City, is a young mother grappling with a sense of alienation as she and her husband grow further apart. Nina and Stephen met when both were in law school and once had common dreams. But now, Nina is a stay-at-home mom with two young children and Stephen spends endless hours as an associate at a law office. There is no time for dreaming.

Unhappy with her marriage and having only her children for company, Nina seeks solace every evening by spying apartments across the way. Using her son's binoculars, she sees a middle-aged couple, always sitting together, companionably reading. The scene repeats itself night after night. She assumes they are happy in each others company. One night, instead of the couple, she sees a young woman on crutches arguing with a young man. The argument ends in sex, and the woman seemingly gazes at Nina who continues to watch. Who are these people? What happened to her perfect pair?

Yet this is not an homage to Hitchcock's Rear Window. Nor is this a  murder mystery at all, but rather, an examination of two marriages and five lives. Visible City explores the price of silence for the sake of harmony as well as the consequences of "the unexamined life." Even if the plot seems a bit contrived, suspend disbelief long enough to appreciate the quirkiness of Manhattan and the assorted characters who people the novel. Each character has qualities inherent in all of us.

As Emily Choate concludes in her review of the book:
The finest accomplishment of Visible City lies in the fact that, though its tone remains hopeful, the novel offers no clear-cut answers or suggestion of finality. Mirvis's graceful language, surprising turns of understanding, and gentle brushstrokes of fantasy make it tempting to believe that her characters live on past the novel's luminous final chapter. They seem to be glancing back and forth forever, between street-level, at the faces of those they love, and skyward, into the glimmering lights of their bright city.

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