Strokes of truth on blank canvas
Reviewed By Carlin Romano
the Philadelphia Inquirer May 21, 2006
One thinks of modeling for artists as passive, grudging work -- that is, until one encounters Blue Nude, Elizabeth Rosner's delicate, clever second novel.
Rosner brings together a beautiful mid-20s Israeli model named Merav and Danzig, a 58-year-old painter and professor at San Francisco's Art Institute.
Amid memories of her lead characters' German and Israeli lives, Rosner designs Blue Nude to flit between second chances and last chances, between artistic desire and sexual desire, tweaking cliched thought to suggest that art may be worth living, and life worth viewing.
Although she arrives second in the story, Merav remains Rosner's strongest creation. Once a Tel Aviv drawing student, Merav "couldn't seem to find her own voice in her fingertips. . . . Everyone else seemed more talented . . . more willing to assert their lines and shadows on the page."
When a prearranged model for her drawing class doesn't show up one day, Merav volunteers to take her place.
At first Merav feels "a kind of peace she had never felt before," her "body touched without being touched."
Soon Merav realizes how much modeling "feels like another form of art," using her body "as a composition and instrument."
Danzig, by contrast, at first resembles too many middle-age male professors in literary fiction.
Still "vain enough to know that his muscle tone is reasonable," he concedes that these days he is perhaps meaner because young female students don't "register him in any way as a sexual being."
When Merav first models for Danzig's class, her poses are "all in the shape of fear: a woman turning away from something threatening; a body in flight."
Rosner beautifully transmutes this mise-en-scene into a painting itself. Like a restorer, she peels off layers of the lives of Merav and Danzig.
As she does, the strata of their pain, their forms of paralysis and hope, become clear.