Review of Contemporary Fiction, Spring2009, Vol. 29 Issue 1
By Michelle Tupko
Douglas A. Martin's ecstatic and devastating narrative verges on what Roland Barthes called the text of bliss. Unlike the text of pleasure, which is refined, delicate and readable in an ordinary sense, the text of bliss, of jouissance, offers up its dense, poetic language for the reader to lose herself in. Told almost entirely in an insistent second-person voice that mixes Martin's own with the ruminations of his characters, Your Body Figured traces through three parts of the lives of three well-known artistic figures on the cusp of transition: Balthus, metamorphosing from his youth into maturity; and, from their maturity to their respective deaths, Hart Crane and George Dyer, Francis Bacon's longtime lover and model. Martin's responsibility to the text, which hangs suspended between fiction, biography, and the question of autobiography, never allows him to absent himself from the addressing "you" that floats through the work, refusing to allow any detail to be pinned down to certainty. Though Your Body Figured functions on many levels, it wouldn't be inaccurate or reductive to call it a work of minor or alternative biography. Martin tells the history of these formidable men as a history of interior struggle, sexual entanglement, addiction, and deep delight. This inner life, though fictionalized (what life isn't?), crashes through the official facts with a force strong enough to leave the reader with a shudder of lasting pleasure.