City Paper is not for tourists
Buoyed by a wave of good reviews for her work, Harriet has secured a fellowship for a month of picture-taking in Switzerland. Objects opens with a one-sided succession of letters from Harriet to her lover, which chronicle her arrival in Geneva and her reunion with Anne Gordon, her former New York roommate. But Anne—who’s having an affair with a 59-year-old married man—is no longer the person Harriet remembers. In her “perfect very grown-up and very modern mistress’s apartment,” which she and Harriet share, Anne has become an “unknowable, chic,
The novel’s jaunty, first-person letters are charming and realistic. Harriet, an admirable wordsmith, peppers her stories with pop-culture parentheticals that straddle several decades of music, literature, and humor. (Or forgivable attempts at humor: “Why does a Frenchman have only one egg for breakfast? Because one egg is un oeuf.”) Then, one-third of the way through the
Objects makes much of its eponymous metaphor; it is full of mirrors, car windshields, and storefront windows. In Geneva, the failure of the internal mirror mechanism in Harriet’s camera causes her to pause and notice just how terrible Anne’s relationship has become (“There’s something sadistic here, some desire to make Anne squirm,” she observes). It is in reflections that Harriet recognizes things—her mother’s love, for example—that she “could swear had never been visible to the naked eye.” Still, by the end of Objects, one can’t help trying to peek around the corner at the next “mirror,” so pervasive is Weber’s use of the trope. Other authorial tricks also lack subtlety: Anne eats gray sole, which, we are informed, reflects her gray soul. Anne (who is sleeping with a Holocaust survivor) and the oft-cited Anne Frank pop up in the same sentences so frequently that it’s easy to confuse their names. We get the point.
For a novel that traffics in sadness, however, Objects is a wondrously optimistic tale, so breezy that its gaspingly tragic, inevitable climax comes almost as a surprise. Weber, like the early Margaret Drabble, is at her best celebrating the minor victories of daily life: a well-chosen café meal, a good shower, a shared joke. That Harriet enjoys these things shows her to be a resilient, hopeful figure—one uncommon to contemporary fiction, perhaps, but captivating nonetheless.