October 2008

Erin McKnight


The Bruise by Magdalena Zurawski

Had I not completed Magdalena Zurawski’s prize-winning novel, The Bruise, with my fingers gripping the cover and its pages pressed beneath my thumbs, I might have questioned whether my astonishing literary odyssey was instead some feverish dream.

Set on an unnamed college campus in an unknown state, M--, a “student of literature,” finds the first days of her final school year battered by an unwelcome sense of reality that leaves its mark, deep and purple, on her skin. This intrusion is the result of a perhaps-visit from an angel whose cumbersome presence forces the book’s narrator to confront the notion that “being able to change and changing are two different things”; the associated implications of M--’s surge into adulthood forcing the spheres of isolation and loneliness, the imaginary and real, to collide, collapsing into the delicate flesh of her forehead.

Related with a clarity that is disarming in its hypnotic fluidity, The Bruise is M--’s attempt to protect, at all costs, her imagination. Her obsessive nature, evident in an overactive sense of externality that dictates an organization debilitating in its demands -- a window opened 12 inches when showering, plates of food divided equally into thirds, a bucket containing an arrangement of white-only toiletries, and a carefully executed presence in the lunch line -- forces M-- to fixate on the “special kind of magic... of knowing that the comforting order of the ordinary which sometimes appeared as the extraordinary” can keep her secure in an environment that is composed of banal objects infused with other people’s memories, ensuring the determination of her existence as certain, accounting for, even, its profound detachment.

As a writer, M-- seeks herself: the story of her imagination a means to discovery. In determining how best to craft the corporeal being her thoughts occupy, however, M-- discovers that the figure her words embody is unfamiliar, a stranger. Accordingly, the elements of loneliness and isolation that drive M--’s fear and sense of separation also infuse into her imagination a desperation that is rhythmic in its provocation, lulling readers as its dizzying and circular sense of logic fixates on the tangible, often masculine, symbols of a rusty bridge and a statue of Marcus Aurelius.

It is this desperation for companionship and a love fundamentally adolescent in its stark rendering that drives M-- to seek out a lover with the ability to see the bruise, but also recognize beyond it the perceptibly alien shrouding of her imagination. Yet M-- discovers that she can never get close, can never speak to someone whose world is real... to the extent that her loneliness becomes consuming. This impossibility of a relationship with a woman who can never represent anything but the truth is clear as soon as M-- rejoices over L--’s observation of the only part of her, the bruise, that is physically verifiable; as L--’s vision comes to rest on the bruise, M-- sinks into an obsessive fear that without imagination -- the ghost that walks alongside her, beyond her physical being -- she is no more present than when she discovered that the body she composes isn’t her own.

Perhaps this percussion of isolation and loneliness is responsible for the emblem of transformation that finds its way onto M--; this trauma, representative of the cry in the first line of a poem she translates, functions as “that sound that would break the sealed capsule of a day as if there were something in [her] that could move beyond [her].” The affliction, unceasing in its presence, forces M-- to consider her own existential possibilities in a manner that is swift in its bluntness, yet sharp in its ability to penetrate the reader’s psyche.

The narrator: scattered, frantic, contemplative, and tormented, also manages to betray a humor, sly not only in its tumbling delivery, but in the implications of a mind rendered opaque by a sense of alienating frustration that overwhelms like the grimy wings of a celestial invader batting against a dorm room wall. In the consideration of her internal trappings and external contingencies, M-- recalls with a crisp sense of swing in language that endures despite its inconsistencies in reason, a girl with a second mouth she once saw on television:

A mouth that was the mouth of a twin who had never separated from the body of her sister but was now only a mouth stuck on the side of the sister’s face... [that] flashed its teeth from the hole it made in its sister’s cheek... [which] the girl fingered... to calm ... translat[ing] its words so that her parents could understand what her sister needed.

In keeping with her fixation of seeing more than is present, M-- witnesses in the face on the doorknob leading into and out of her room the possibility of providing a finger to suck for this sister that she has discovered, and who mouths the words she captures in her writing. Above all else, however, the message of the second mouth reflects the reasoning behind L-- leaving M-- and abandoning the bruise: when reality begins to rob small moments of the chance to become larger, stealing from imagination the possibility of becoming real and of reality to be transformed through the power of creation, change is no longer emerging as an amalgamation of isolation and loneliness and reality and imagination, but is an in-action process of transformation spurred by an adolescent suffering vague in its rendition.

Left as an infliction on M--’s face, and on display in the statue of Daphne, is the bruise: reflecting the “special kind of magic that could make [her] see what was not there yet and what was not there anymore” -- growth, translation, change. Identifying in the statue, projected from a slide onto the wall, her own existence as “in the middle of her metamorphosis,” M-- recognizes the possibility of an end-result taking shape beyond the physical form of the college and her own being, eradicating the need for her to question whether the angel had in fact visited, and for the reader to contemplate whether M-- will find a way to fill out her flesh as the actualization of what stirs beneath.

The Bruise by Magdalena Zurawski
ISBN: 1573661449
152 Pages