cover image White on White

White on White

Aysegül Savas. Riverhead, $26 (192p) ISBN 978-0-593-33051-7

Savas (Walking on the Ceiling) offers an alluring if elusive story about the intricate relationship between an art history student and her landlady, a painter. The unnamed narrator needs a place to stay in order to complete her doctoral research, and the rent for Agnes and her husband’s flat is so low that she’s able to overlook the fact that Agnes will be using the upstairs studio from time to time. During their first encounters, Agnes’s “poised manner” leaves a strong impression on the narrator. As they start discussing Agnes’s childhood, marriage, and career, it becomes obvious that underneath her carefully constructed persona, she’s deeply insecure, which is also reflected in her restrained work, often unfinished and consisting of white paint on white canvas. The unraveling of Agnes’s life and self often has parallels with art and scripture (for example, her lack of empathy at the financial ruin of her aunt and cousin after her uncle’s death is eerily similar to the parable of the 10 bridesmaids in the New Testament’s book of Matthew). Some of these fleeting anecdotes feel expendable, but the account of the perfect Agnes’s slow crumbling builds to an unsettling conclusion. Fans of Rachel Cusk’s Outline trilogy will appreciate this striking portrait. Agent: Sarah Bowlin, Aevitas Creative Management. (Nov.)