Sunday, September 04, 2011
Alexander reminisces to an artist friend of his wife Sonia about a peculiar affair he's had with an undocumented Polish worker. His marriage on its surface is quite successful: Sonia is beautiful, intelligent, and creative. She is a much more gifted architect than he, and the firm they run together is successful because she does the drawing and he manages the books.
But Alexander seems uninspired by Sonia sexually or intellectually or spiritually. He recognizes that she is beautiful, and that her ambition and architectural skills are better than his--and yet he is full of contempt for her passion and ideals. There's a scene in the novel when Alexander takes photos of Sonia asleep before they've even started dating. When she is prone and unonconscious he seems more drawn to her. In fact, Alexander can't seem to relate to anyone very well. Everyone is stupid, crazy, foolish, pretentious, or boring. It's unpleasant being trapped in his head.
So occasionally during his marriage Alexander runs off to Ivanova to continue an affair begun before he met Sonia. Ivanova is ugly, chubby, obtuse, dim, and fanatically Catholic. He despises everything about her, from her cluttered apartment to the Bible verses on the walls to her habit of watching moralizing soap operas and reciting the stories to him as though they'd happened to her. She does nothing but work 16 hour days and send the money home. And he is passionately in love with her to the point he pressures her into sex. She seems uninterested and cold during sex, but this turns him on even more.
Alex has no ambition. He works hard but finds no joy in it. His marriage is a sham and he doesn't seem to care. He treats his daughter the way his daughter treats her cat; he feeds it sometimes and calls on its services when he feels like playing. Otherwise she's an annoyance and a burden. He makes not a single true human connection in the novel with one exception, when a fat Frenchman in a shit-hole bar buys his drinks as Alex drinks himself into a downward spiral.
The artist to whom Alexander narrates his story is named Antje. Her paintings are of human/animal hybrids with large genitals in the act of copulation. Take that as you will.
Seven Years either precipitated or coincided randomly with a very bleak two-day depression of my own. It was heady fodder for self-reflection, a strange combination of beauty and soullessness.