ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


"Maison Cristina", a novel by Eugene K. Garber, Transformation Press, 2021.

A brief review by Ricardo Nirenberg

In previous novels by Garber, you enjoy at least one character who is a Paganini of language.  Going no further back than three years ago, in The House of Nordquist, the letters of professor Aptheker have stayed in my memory for the brilliancy of their language, which hide a troubled, darkened mind.  In this new novel, Peter Naughton, an octogenarian with a dark past, is our virtuoso of language.  He sees horrific visions on the walls, for which he has been committed to Maison Cristina, a psychiatric institution run by nuns.  Peter Naughton’s Wahnsinn is his Wandsehen, if you pardon the German pun.  Another protagonist, Charlene, a young woman who is unable to speak or to close her eyes, and who is also a resident of Maison Cristina, recalls another character in The House of Nordquist: Helene, the woman whose body and soul were to be transmuted into music.  Both are emaciated and half dead, both have been long suffering; Charlene and Helene: even their names rhyme.  In both novels, to complete the parallel, expression is expected to be salvific; the role of music in The House of Nordquist here, in this new novel, is replaced by storytelling.

         On the other hand, there are remarkable differences.  Maison Cristina has a unity of plot more organic than anything I remember having read by the master.  Also, the nuns who run the psychiatric institution provide an aura of sacredness, especially Sister Claire, the mistress or director, who, in her sessions with Naughton, offers pearls of thought-provoking spirituality like the following: “There’s the silent waiting for the voice of God. And there’s the silence of abnegation.”  Again, I don’t remember having felt such an aura in previous work by Garber.  Whether the sacred aura and the organic unity of plot are connected I am not sure; all I can say is both make reading this book a wonderful adventure of the spirit going back and forth among the living and the dead.



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