Friday, November 27, 2020

The Wonderfully Bearable Lightness of Kuznetsova’s Intervals

Inga Kuznetsova’s Промежуток Intervals is how Muireann Maguire titles her as-yet-unpublished translation of the novel – was, in many ways, my perfect pandemic-era reading. Intervals is serious but funny, interesting and creative but not especially taxing, and weird but not quite unbelievable. It’s also surprisingly simple, perhaps even simplistic. And light, perhaps even lite, to the extent that now, looking back, I kind of wonder if I missed something. (The very full plot summary on literary agent Thomas Wiedling’s site, here, however, confirms that, no, I probably did not.)

Intervals possesses a fairly solid plot line – we have a future Moscow where poetry (but not prose) is forbidden, protests take place, truncheons have been replaced by double-edged swords, a Nobel-winning poet is arrested, people flee, and eventual catharsis takes place – but Kuznetsova goes heavy on literary devices and light on character development, so I have little memory of individual human characters but plenty of impressions of, hm, odder and more sensory things. Like chapters told from the perspective of birds, bread, and the bars of a prison window. At one point, curtains watch sex, turning the tables on peeping toms. My marginalia includes lots of exclamation marks and “ha has” plus notes like “so weird you wonder if you understood correctly.”

Given that Intervals involves poets and Kuznetsova is, herself, a poet as well as a novelist, there’s also ample discussion of language because (paraphrasing) one character, a poet named Inga (meta alert!), wonders if she’s taken ill because words can separate from the things they’re associated with, to travel on their own. Just as people can be separated from their loves and lives. Inga also fears falling into gaps between words and things. Hm, particularly given her fate.

Somewhere, I saw Intervals described as “naïve.” I agree that it is, though if I think about the almost physical effect the book had on me, I might choose the word “childlike” to convey a child’s imagination and sense of awe when faced with animals and objects. What if they really can think? What if they really are watching us? (Our cats certainly are, usually judging…) In the end, I suppose I read Intervals as simultaneously heavy, light, and lite since it begins with dark, dystopian situations and concludes with, essentially, just plain utopian love. Yes, that feels all too easy (even EZ?), too facile. Then again, perhaps that’s the point? I’m not sure that matters much to me, though, since Intervals was, in many senses, ideal reading during the pandemic: it’s smart, it’s weird (that word again) but simultaneously very familiar, it’s not set in (quite) our reality, it’s lovely to read, and it’s optimistic. Despite my lingering sense of “Is that all there is?” Intervals left me with utterly pervasive memories of laughing out loud, finding joy in wordplay, and, yes, that childlike awe. I’m glad those elements of the book are what dominate my memories, resurging whenever I start to question. I needed them and they’re a lot, practically a regal gift, during 2020. As an example: Did I love the carrier pigeon who mentions Proust? Of course I did.

Up Next: We’ll see!

Disclaimers and Disclosures: The usual for knowing/having met Inga Kuznetsova, Muireann Maguire, and Thomas Wiedling.


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