Bitter Water Opera: A Novel (Paperback)

Bitter Water Opera: A Novel By Nicolette Polek Cover Image

Bitter Water Opera: A Novel (Paperback)


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An electrifying debut novel about art, solitude, family, and faith in a world without it

In 1967, the dancer Marta Becket and her husband were traveling through Death Valley Junction when they came across an abandoned theater. Marta decided it was hers. She painted her ideal audience on its walls and danced her own dances until her death five decades later.

In the present day, Gia has ended a relationship and taken a leave from her job in film studies at a university. She is sleeping fifteen hours a night and ignoring calls from her mother. In a library archive, she comes across a photo of Marta Becket and decides to write her a letter. Soon Marta magically appears in her home.

Gia hopes Marta Becket will guide her out of her despair. But is Marta—the example of her single-minded, solitary life—enough? Through precise, vivid vignettes, Bitter Water Opera follows Gia as she resists the urge to escape into herself and struggles to form a lasting connection to the world. Her search has her reckoning with a set of terrifying charcoal drawings on her garage walls, a corpse in the middle of a pond, a crooked pear sapling, and other mysterious entities before bringing her to Marta’s theater, the Amargosa Opera House. There in the desert, Gia finds one answer.

In this brief, astonishing novel, Nicolette Polek describes an individual awakening to faith while exploring our deepest existential questions. How do we look beyond ourselves? Where do words go? What is art for?

Nicolette Polek is the author of Imaginary Museums. Her work has appeared in the Paris Review Daily, BOMB, New York Tyrant, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of a Rona Jaffe Writers’ Award and recently completed an MAR at Yale Divinity School.

Product Details ISBN: 9781644452837
ISBN-10: 1644452839
Publisher: Graywolf Press
Publication Date: April 16th, 2024
Pages: 128
Language: English

**A New Yorker Best Book of 2024**

“Polek elegantly fashions an ode to small and privately felt moments of beauty, and to art’s capacity to reach through time.” —The New Yorker

“An enthralling, almost spiritual account, Bitter Water Opera speaks to the desire for self-creation through destruction. Nicolette Polek invites us to crack open a window that exits to the impossible . . . [and] to grapple with the fleetingness and eternity of existence.”—Rosemary Ho, Columbia Journal of Literary Criticism

“Breathtaking sensitivity. . . . A delightfully peculiar meditation on imagination—as maladaptive crutch, creative tool, and steppingstone to peace.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Exuberant and improbable, Bitter Water Opera is a wonder work of noticing. At times a field guide, a compass, a low-key pilgrimage. Built with each precise line, a chimera of meaning comes into startling focus by its end. The effect of the haunted observer at the center of this limerent, faith-shaped novel is measureless. I wanted to travel with her indefinitely.”—Marie-Helene Bertino, author of Beautyland

“I found Bitter Water Opera mesmerizing. It reminded me of a book I loved when I was young, written by Alain-Fournier, called The Wanderer. A book dense and delicious with God-made language and violent emotion. This is an original for the twenty-first century.” —Fanny Howe, author of Love and I

“A lush and dreamy ‘storybook-like’ novel, reminiscent of Leonora Carrington and Sylvia Townsend Warner, Bitter Water Opera asks if we can change our lives—or make choices at all—if we can dwell in possibility ‘as if permanently,’ if we can allow enchantment into ‘the realm of the real.’ This is a work of subtle, spiritual intelligence.”—Elisa Gabbert, author of The Unreality of Memory

“Nicolette Polek’s Bitter Water Opera is my favorite type of book, a book that only its author could write. In these short, propulsive chapters, Polek writes about the biggest questions and creates a new allegory concerning faith and identity. It’s a real garden of a book, full of mysteries and mustard seeds. She shows us a door and asks us to open it, to see what others cannot see. I was astonished.”—Scott McClanahan, author of The Sarah Book

“Read Bitter Water Opera for the beautiful theologically brilliant prose and also for Gia, its heroine, whose wonder and longing pull a mentor-spirit out of the netherworld. ‘The world seemed more broken than usual,’ writes Nicolette Polek, a feeling, in our current moment, impossible not to identify with. But the grace and limerence in these pages helped me and I believe they will help you.”—Darcey Steinke, author of Flash Count Diary