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Madeleine Is Sleepingby Sarah Shun-lien Bynum
A fat woman sprouts delicate wings and takes flight; a failed photographer stumbles into the role of pornographer; a beautiful young wife grows to resemble her husband's viol: these are all characters in Sarah Shun Li Bynum's marvelous gem of a novel. Composed in deceptively simple vignettes, Madeleine Is Sleeping follows the life of a young comatose girl in provincial France as she joins a circus, entangles herself in a bizarre love triangle, and discovers the power behind the dreamed and the experienced, the delicate and the grotesque, in the discovery of art, sexuality, and community.
Synopses & Reviews
When a girl falls into a deep and impenetrable sleep, the borders between her provincial French village and the peculiar, beguiling realm of her dreams begin to disappear: A fat woman sprouts delicate wings and takes flight; a failed photographer stumbles into the role of pornographer; a beautiful young wife grows to resemble her husband's viol. And in their midst travels Madeleine, the dreamer, who is trying to make sense of her own metamorphosis.
Part fairy tale, part coming-of-age story, this enchantingly inventive novel follows Madeleine as she leaves home, joins a gypsy circus, and falls into an unexpected triangle of desire and love.
Embracing the earthy and the ethereal, the comical and the poignant, Madeleine Is Sleeping is an adventure in the discovery of art, sexuality, community, and the self that transcends both time and place.
"An immensely obese woman who sprouts two magnificent pairs of wings, a lonely housewife who grows strings to match her husband's viol and a lascivious, wealthy widow are just a few of the fantastical characters who populate the enchanting world of Bynum's debut. Written in brief, dreamy segments (appropriately enough, since the title character has fallen into a Sleeping Beauty-like slumber), the book alternates deftly between reality and illusion as it follows Madeleine down a path of sexual, artistic and personal discovery. In a perverse revisitation of Ludwig Bemelmans's classic children's books, Madeleine, exiled to a Parisian convent from her pastoral French home after committing a rather scientific sex act with the village idiot, joins a band of gypsies who wind up performing for a widow with a love of photography and a penchant for the pornographic. As Madeleine grows entwined in an intensely erotic love triangle with the 'flatulent man,' M. Pujol, and Adrien, the photographer assigned to document the widow's grotesquely arranged tableaux, life at home grows worse for the family holding vigil over her as she sleeps. The book culminates in a masterful merge between Madeleine's waking life and her dreams, making it impossible to discern whether reality ever existed in Bynum's imaginative tale. Replete with Kafkaesque metamorphoses, Freudian fantasies, Aesopian justice and religious metaphor, the novel is equal parts fairy tale, fable, romance and bildungsroman. At times, the allegorical allusions grow predictable, and some readers may be put off by the constant shifts and uncertainty between fact and fiction. Others looking for a challenging, unusual read will be thrilled by the imagination and mysterious energy that haunt this remarkable debut. Agent, Bill Clegg. (Sept. 4)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"The masterful way [Bynum] has kept her disappearing balls in the air...reminds of no one, unless it's that wonderful dream-narrator we all possess, who tells us the most outlandish and dirty stories quite calmly, and doesn't mind doubling us and others, or making things happen twice at the same time." The Washington Post
"Told in a series of miniature fragments, the multilayered story is complex and sometimes disconcerting." Library Journal
"Madeleine Is Sleeping tiptoes the line between fantasy and reality, between history and myth....[A] small, enchanting novel that appeals to the naughty, insolent child in each of us." USA Today
About the Author
Sarah Shun-lien Bynum's fiction has appeared in the Georgia Review and Alaska Quarterly Review. She lives with her husband in Brooklyn, New York. Madeleine Is Sleeping is her first novel.
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