Joseph Edwin Haeger reviews Virtuoso by Yelena Moskovich. (Two Dollar Radio)
I’ve been seeing a lot of people compare Yelena Moskovich’s new novel Virtuoso to David Lynch. I was into this comparison when I cracked it open, ready for the weird.
The first hundred pages lay out the overall story and introduce us to the main characters, but there wasn’t any point where I thought it was strange in a Lynchian kind of way. It was a little bleak and off-center but was set in a grounded reality. And then, the final two chapters of the first section happened and I thought, Oh, there it is. This is when our focus is pulled to a blue color and a mystic smoke begins creeping around the edges of the story. Then, we move on. We don’t linger on these fantastical elements, but we’re now well-aware of them (you know, like a Lynch movie).
The way Moshkovich uses these elements is partly why I’m so drawn to Virtuoso—she’s woven speculative elements into the periphery and uses them to enhance the lives of the characters. The story is rich enough, so, even with its winding and intricate plot, the focal point stays close to the characters.
We open on a death. Aimée discovers someone she very much loves past the point of saving. It’s heartbreaking, frantic, and confusing because we have no context for any of this, but we’re there to watch it all unfold. Then, we’re whisked away.
We meet Jana and, shortly after, Zorka, two young Czech girls who become friends. We see the foundations of their worldviews being built, but since this book is purposefully erratic and non-linear, we’re taken elsewhere before we can find any solid footing in their stories.
Virtuoso didn’t simply engage me on an intellectual level, but also on a deep and emotional one. It’s the kind of art that lives in you and follows you around because of your experience with it.
Even with these jumps, Moskovich writes with such a steady hand that I never worried about where we had landed or where she would take us next; I trusted it was all going to shake out in the end. Virtuoso is a bending novel with speculative elements that work so well because of the world Moskovich has grounded us in. Nothing seems overly fantastical because it already feels like a fully formed reality.
Virtuoso presents a broad spectrum of women we’re able to engage with. This is a feminist novel, not necessarily because it empowers women (which it does through certain characters), but because it shows many women as people. For the moments we see Zorka standing up for herself and not taking anyone’s shit, we also have moments when Aimée is meek and unsure of what she should do. Or the shift in Jana’s character from someone who appeases the people in her life to someone taking control and giving her people a big “fuck you.” Through the character evolutions and histories, we’re shown a fully human side with a range of emotions and personalities.
Like Mulholland Drive (a movie I love) or Kids (a movie I do not love), I had a visceral reaction to Virtuoso (a book—if you haven’t figured out—I love). With those movies, I can think about the emotions they evoked even if I can’t remember all the specifics of the plot—and, even now, I know years down the road I’ll look at my bookshelf and see the pale blue spine of this book standing upright and I’ll be brought back to this feeling I’m having now. It is the highest form of praise you can give a piece of art.
Virtuoso didn’t simply engage me on an intellectual level, but also on a deep and emotional one. It’s the kind of art that lives in you and follows you around because of your experience with it. It’s part of you now and, for good or ill, that’s goddamn impressive.