His Vision of Her by G.D. Dess was originally published thirty years ago. It was a different time. Or was it?
Stephen, the protagonist, manages a book store in Soho. Perhaps out of boredom, he begins visiting local art shows on his lunch hour. A new gallery that features photography catches his eye. A quick perusal convinces him that the photography is “mediocre at best.” However, he stays because one never knows if he might discover “a budding young talent.” This is exactly what happens. Stephen discovers Gilberte, a mysterious, young photographer. Stephen is obsessed.
Dess keeps his first person point of view locked into Stephen’s intriguing mind without the slightest slip. The novel is an intimate conversation. It is as though Stephen is there, telling his story to the reader. Instead of using quotation marks to set off dialogue, he uses dashes. This tactic makes it clear that the dialogue is indirect, that Stephen is repeating the words. Dess artfully avoids dialogue tags without ever once leaving the source of the words unclear. Instead of employing chapters, the author divides the novel into scenes which often include long sections of internal monologue where Stephen seems to be analyzing himself, but may actually be analyzing New York City society as a whole.
Dess bravely and ahead of his time ignores the standard bell curve plot line requirements. Instead, his line only has a few minor dips and highs as if to reflect Stephen’s stifling ennui and lack of realistic self evaluation. He states that he does not know who he is and that he does not know what he wants. He craves emotional closeness, but is unable to commit. Even his sexuality wavers in a constant state of flux.
Gilberte, on the other hand, knows what she wants; she is driven to achieve fame. This may be why Stephen is drawn to her. Perhaps he sees her as a representation of the drive and focus he lacks. Unfortunately, Gilberte lacks depth. Her quest for fame does not appear to include the lust for creative perfection that is the mark of a true artist. Instead of locking herself away in her dark room, she stands in front of mirror practicing facial expressions that will impress potential patrons. For Gilberte, it is all about money and parties and connections. She has no intention of starving for her art. These two flawed characters join and disconnect at the whim of Gilberte’s self-absorbed trajectory and the machinations of Katherine, Gilberte’s major patron.
The author’s style is exquisite and creates a vivid sense of place and time. His mastery of the language will cause some readers to experience spasms of ecstasy and others to search for a dictionary. His descriptions are lengthy but necessary to understand Stephen’s true nature.
A Vision of Her is not a quick read. It is not a good choice for those who seek explosive action or heart rending tension. It is, however, a great option for cerebral readers who enjoy examining the mind of a person attempting find himself in a world where the individual must struggle to discover personal meaning. Some readers may consider A Vision of Her historical fiction, especially those who haunted the New York City art scene in the eighties. Other readers will recognize themselves in Stephen and realize that they have much in common with him. Some things never change. Stephen’s malaise is universal and timeless.
Will Stephen find the emotional closeness his heart longs for, or will he give in to his inability to commit? Only time will tell.