Art & Ambition: Shruti Swamy & Claire Vaye Watkins
These novels introduce us to women who are navigating their art alongside obligations to family and the possibility—and end—of relationships.
Shruti Swamy’s The Archer is a bold portrait of a singular woman coming of age as an artist—navigating desire, duty, and the limits of the body. It is also an electrifying and utterly immersive story about the transformative power of art, and the possibilities that love can open when we’re ready. A young woman comes of age in 1960s- and 1970s-era Bombay, a vanished world that is complex and indelibly rendered. Vidya’s childhood is marked by the shattering absence and then the bewildering reappearance of her mother and baby brother at the family home. Restless, observant, and longing for connection with her brilliant and increasingly troubled mother, Vidya navigates the stifling expectations of her life with a vivid imagination until one day she peeks into a classroom where girls are learning kathak, a dazzling, centuries-old dance form that requires the utmost discipline and focus. Her pursuit of artistic transcendence through kathak soon becomes the organizing principle of her life, even as she leaves home for college and falls in complicated love with her best friend. As the uncertain future looms, she must ultimately confront the tensions between romantic love, her art, and the legacy of her own imperfect mother.
Claire Vaye Watkin’s novel I Love You but I’ve Chosen Darkness is a darkly funny, soul-rending novel of love in an epoch of collapse—one woman’s furious revisiting of family, marriage, work, sex, and motherhood. Leaving behind her husband and their baby daughter, a writer gets on a flight for a speaking engagement in Reno, not carrying much besides a breast pump and a spiraling case of postpartum depression. Her temporary escape from domestic duties and an opportunity to reconnect with old friends mutates into an extended romp away from the confines of marriage and motherhood, and a seemingly bottomless descent into the past. Deep in the Mojave Desert where she grew up, she meets her ghosts at every turn: the first love whose self-destruction still haunts her; her father, a member of the most famous cult in American history; her mother, whose native spark gutters with every passing year. She can’t go back in time to make any of it right, but what exactly is her way forward? Alone in the wilderness, at last she begins to make herself at home in the world.
Moderated by Cari Luna, author of The Revolution of Every Day.
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