For readers of Rachel Cusk and Maggie Nelson, the rapturous memoir of a soon-to-be-mother whose obsession with the reclusive painter Agnes Martin threatens to upend her life
Five months pregnant and struggling with a creative block, JoAnna Novak becomes obsessed with the enigmatic Abstract Expressionist painter Agnes Martin. She is drawn to the contradictions in Martin’s life as well as art—the soft and exacting brushstrokes she employs for grid-like compositions that are both rigid and dreamy. But what most calls to JoAnna is Martin’s dedication to her art in the face of paranoid schizophrenia.
Uneasy with the changes her pregnant body is undergoing, JoAnna relapses into damaging old habits and thought patterns. When she confides in her doctor that she’s struggling with depression and suicidal ideation, he tells her she must stop being so selfish, given she has a baby on the way, and start taking antidepressants. Appalled by his patronizing tone and disregard of her mental health history, JoAnna instead makes a deal with herself: she’ll surrender to her obsession with Agnes Martin and adopt the painter’s doctrine of joyful solitude and isolation; if she fails, she’ll comply and go on antidepressants.
JoAnna rents a house in Taos and gives herself three weeks to dedicate herself to Martin’s work and model her hermetic existence: phone off, email off, no talking to her husband, no touching the dog. Out of a deep, solitary engagement with a remarkable artist’s body of work emerges an entirely new way for her to relate to the contradictions of her own body and face up to the joys and challenges of impending motherhood.