Pages for You
For once, you can tell a book by its cover. The red-tinted, soft-focus female torso that beckons from Pages for You signals the intent of the writing within. This is a seduction, pure and simple.
"What would happen if I wrote some pages for you?" the narrator asks in the book's opening lines, and the answer, as she likely hopes, is that you will fall in love. The central conceit is that the narrator is imagining an affair to lure her potential lover into a flesh-and-blood version. If this reader's reaction is any indication, it should work.
Depending on how you read it, Pages for You either recounts or invents a torrid but tender love affair between two women--Flannery, a 17-year-old student away from home for the first time, and Anne, a worldly graduate student/literature instructor at their unnamed East Coast college. For Flannery, it is a coming-of-age story; for Anne, a farewell to her seeking self.
The two first encounter each other in a diner, where Flannery requests a jelly omelet, an unsophisticated order that causes the solitary Anne to glare at the teenager with disdain. Days later, Flannery is assigned to Anne's section for an Intro to Criticism course. Flannery flees the class, too overwhelmed by the instructor's mere presence to contemplate an entire semester of longing, and the two women begin a seductive dance defined by its moves: a trip to New York that begins the secret romance, an ill-fated holiday together in a hostile Florida, and, finally, Flannery's heartbreaking visit to Anne's new life.
Sylvia Brownrigg's writing takes on the rhythm of a dance as she sensuously doles out details of the romance in two-page allotments, another aspect of the book's conceit. The portions still feel decadent, with even such small bites leaving the reader a little woozy: "I have treats in store for you," she writes in the teasing introduction. "A perfect, pitch-purple aubergine; caramelized fennel; potatoes roasted in rosemary, for remembrance."
Seduction is so much the point of Pages for You that this novel works only if you imagine it as an invitation to romance. It's far less fun as a credible love affair, where realism gets in the way, coincidences and chance meetings seem absurd, and the brittle, beautiful Anne comes across as far too impatient and sophisticated for the awkward, naive Flannery, however ripe and ready the younger woman might be.
Brownrigg, a graduate of the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars, made her name with The Metaphysical Touch, a much-praised "novel of ideas" that married philosophy, high-tech, and intimacy and won the author comparisons to Richard Powers. Here her technique and theme are more reminiscent of experimental writer Carole Maso. That's not to call Brownrigg derivative; imperfect as it is, Pages for You marks her as a wholly distinctive and welcome literary voice.