The Correspondence Artist
A Novel by Barbara Browning
"The Correspondence Artist is smart, funny, sexy, knowledgeable, subtle, disturbing, light-hearted, obsessive, and tragic: a comedy that, I surmise, is wholly confessional and wholly imaginary. Readers are urged not to resent a wit superior to their own, since it is deployed entirely for their particular entertainment."—Harry Mathews
For three years, a rather unremarkable woman named Vivian has been carrying on with an internationally recognized artist, largely via e-mail. Fame contaminates things. There are people who stand to profit from the most trivial information about this affair, and others who stand to lose. So she creates a subterfuge: a series of fictional versions of her lover.
There is Tzipi, a beautiful sixty-eight-year-old Nobel-winning Israeli writer; Binh, a twenty-something Vietnamese conceptual artist; Santuxto, a poetic blogging Basque separatist; and Djeli, a brainy Malian "World Music" star - each of whom corresponds to a particular aspect of the character of the unnameable "paramour".
Through her stash of e-mail correspondence, Vivian divulges the story of their relationship, from their first meeting to their jumpy spam filter, which arrests the more explicit notes, leading to Vivian's being held captive in a tiger cage in a Berlin hotel / chased by a Medusa-like woman on a Greek Island / imprisoned by a splinter cell of Basque separatists / interned in a Bamako hospital with a bout of dengue fever.
The Correspondence Artist might be construed as a self-destructing roman à clef, raising questions about the ethical, legal and psychological transgressions of the genre even as it commits and undoes them.
Barbara Browning has a PhD from Yale in comparative literature. She teaches in the Department of Performance Studies at the Tisch School of the Arts, NYU. She's also a poet and a dancer. She lives with her son in Greenwich Village.