If you are of the perceptive type, and have been very much in love — romantic, platonic, familial — you are able to recognize the precise moment in the relationship when the veil first slips. The moment when the prince’s white horse shows a tinge of gray, or a scratch is teased from the princess’ pedestal. From that moment, the relationship is forever altered and a new course is directed, one grounded in reality.
Perceiving this, in the moment or in afterthought, is one thing. Writing it — capturing in a novel that moment between two lovers without sinking into melodrama — is something else.
“Printz” (Portmay Press), a short novel offered by Maryann D’Agincourt and the fourth in her art fiction series, is that something else.
Beautifully written, D’Agincourt’s third novel — she has also published a well-received book of short stories — is largely the interior monologues of two strangers who are lovers, although we see more of Jacob Printz, a man who loses his purpose in life following the death of his sister, through the lens of that lover, Greta Halter.
Greta, considerably younger, is unsure if she is on the rebound from an unrequited love she left in Italy. Unsure, because so much of this story is told in shades of color, as when we first join Greta and Jacob, 10 months after the two travelers were thrust together in Europe. From there, we move back in time to that meeting and beyond, to Paris, where much of the story of their recent lives is unraveled, only to be knotted once again as time returns to the present in a deftly drawn circle that brings us back nearly to page one.
Such a story would be unwieldy and confusing under a lesser pen. But D’Agincourt, author of the National Book Award-nominated “Journal of Eva Morelli,” paints scenes and characters as much as writes them, crafting visual imagery from her words akin to the story a painting offers upon inspection.
This is fitting, as “Printz” is framed by Willem de Kooning’s “Seated Woman,” the image of which the publisher secured the right to for the back cover of the jacket, and the image of which recurs to Jacob throughout his life. For a visual of Jacob himself, there is the front jacket image of Amedeo Modigiliani’s “Portrait of Henri Laurens, sitting.” Given the story, a reversal of those jacket images could be argued for.
Sparsely written, D’Agincourt’s “Printz” reads almost as if it were a novel finely translated into English. Perhaps it is the largely European setting, or the travels of the characters themselves, but it would be no surprise to find that the author was from abroad. Except she isn’t. D’Agincourt was born in Boston, educated at Simmons College and earned two graduate degrees in English literature. She did, however, study writing in Toronto.
That great masterpieces fascinate D’Agincourt and inform that writing is clear.
That the author can parse the strokes that crafted those works of art and reassemble them into subtle, character-driven narratives is a gift.
And like a painting, “Printz” is a gift of a novel layered through multiple viewings.