... a small but mighty tale of aspiration and marriage gone wrong ... it reminded me of A Room of One’s Own with a few wicked twists ... eyebrow raising, tantalizing and unforgettable ... a fable infused with an old-fashioned moral: Be careful what you wish for. But don’t get the wrong idea; it’s not all doom and gloom. Cain’s story has its funny moments ... I felt compelled to mull over the questions at the heart of this small but mighty book ... Cain’s tale made me want to grab a highlighter ... not escapist reading, but it is fuel, pushing you to do the thing you love ... Like a patient gym teacher coaching a lazy student, Cain whispered beautiful words into her megaphone, and I listened.
Unlike many of Cain’s stories, Indelicacy does not forgo plot altogether, but it does continue to frame the story line in ways that leave much of the information outside the reader’s view ... From the beginning, then, we know the marriage will end—which makes reading the book like the experience of viewing a painting from a distance, seeing the whole of it at once, and then stepping forward to examine subtler details. These subtler details are not what one might expect; for a novel whose ostensible plot is about a woman getting married, and marrying up, no less, few words are devoted to the relationship, to what wife and husband say to or do with each other ... The story of a marriage is generally meant to impose order on the novel, to subordinate each moment to a larger design. In Indelicacy, this story finds itself subordinate to other forms of female pleasure and desire: friendship, sex, dancing, writing, daydreaming.
Indelicacy is ekphrastic, but sparingly so. You get the sense that our author, as well as our heroine, is aware of the limits of words; the visual is conjured as much by what is absent. Her bone-clean prose creates a sense of immersion in a story that feels both mythic and true ... A woman’s search for creativity is not a new subject, yet Cain has made it so. 'How happy I was. I had created an experience for someone; I hadn’t been sure I could actually do that,' says Vitória, when a friend reads her writing—the goal of all art, and one that the author fulfils with an intricate grace that endures long after the setting down of this deceptively slim book.
These references, though they impart the odd frisson, invite unflattering comparisons. Cain’s sentences are elegant and often suspenseful, but the narrative can’t fulfill the promise of their strangeness. Vitória lacks the stark self-pity of Jean Rhys’s heroines or the swooning, spiritual intensity of Clarice Lispector’s, and Cain doesn’t manage the magic trick accomplished by those predecessors, in which a mind becomes the world and all outside it vanishes. Meanwhile the social constraints that serve here as Cain’s artistic ones also feel too filmy and indistinct to sustain the requisite tension. Indelicacy makes a tacit claim as a feminist fable, in which Vitória attempts to carve out room for herself without either submitting to or being complicit in exploitation—but the book’s very ease makes it slight against its much darker lineage. It couldn’t have been written in the past it’s set in, yet it also doesn’t draw much from the time in which it appears. Genet spawned The Maids out of a true and violent story—it’s intriguing to consider what Cain might make from sturdier material.
Cain’s magic act is her ability to write the interior life without tumbling into the traps of isolation, solipsism, or spiraling self-obsession. Instead, Cain writes into the expansiveness of the narrator’s thought processes, not in isolation but in concert with her surrounding environment ... Where naming a specific year and setting might help ground readers in a narrative, the purposeful ambiguity of Indelicacy creates an eerie unmoored effect. Vitória, like the art she describes, exists both in and out of time ... Introspective, poetic, and full of longing, this passage is reminiscent of another Künstlerroman, Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse ... Indelicacy is a hopeful story, told hauntingly.
There are remarkable things in this book, often revealed by close, slow reading. Such is the attention to detail that the novel becomes meditative in its observations ... Cain—like more established US literary stars such as Jenny Offill and Ottessa Moshfegh—writes in a style I have started to call 'modern flat.' It has qualities that include, but are not limited to, deceptively simple structures, first person narration, usually by a woman, and short, almost curt sentences. All of which serve to conceal something deeper, and sometimes unsettling, beneath that calm surface ... Indelicacy’s undemanding prose style can likewise easily be a speed read. Perhaps it was always Cain’s intention to draw in busy readers quickly and easily, then suspend us, helpless and happy, in the extraordinary world she has created, unmoored in time or place.
The background provided for Vitória is slim, yet each detail haunts with the way it solidly exists in the midst of a conjured dream world ... Indelicacy is stripped down ... There are earthly materials yet there is also the all-enveloping and eerie sense that no other world exists outside of this snow globe ... Cain’s writing feels otherworldly, yet she achieves an uncanny effect because she also perpetually roots it in a secular experience ... The conjured environment feels as though it appeared out of thin air, or that it is a shimmering dream between sleep and waking.
The novel turns outward while also, reflexively, remaining its subject. The book does this first through its engagement with art ... But Cain is far too sophisticated to simply offer the reader a series of images that drew on the tropes of painting: still life, image, frame ... what’s most compelling of all—both in its artistry and in its significance—is the way Vitória becomes involved in the actual act of framing, in the actual act of composition ... It...provides a commentary on power, on claiming it, and the less vulnerable people who suffer in its wake—who, in short, invariably clean up the mess.
... bewitching ... Cain takes this bare-bones fairy tale and writes back in extraordinary fashion. Indelicacy is part feminist fable, part ghost story, a book that reaches backwards and forwards in time as it seeks to talk back to literature and art, all the while rendering in clean, crisp prose one woman’s desire to find a place for herself to live as she wants – namely, without guilt ... Cain’s cleverness is to give her the opportunity, a double-edged sword that brings further self-knowledge ... For a short book, Cain’s debut is remarkable in its scope. Desire, guilt, class, female friendship, marriage and art all feel thoroughly examined ... The voice is perfect – intrepid but assured, appreciative and curious, an outsider, in short, a writer ... a call-out to female artists and would-be artists across the ages.
Cain’s bewitching first novel is so deeply internalized that the reader knows neither what city the solitude-loving narrator lives in nor the time frame, though candles and carriages are mentioned, nor her age and appearance ... Cain’s concentrated, subtle, and intriguing portrait of an evolving artist resolutely rejecting gender and class roles, with its subtle nods to Jean Rhys, Clarice Lispector, and Octavia Butler, explores the risks and rewards of a call to create and self-liberate.
Deeply rooted in the literary tradition, the novel inconspicuously references works like Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea and Octavia Butler’s Kindred and explores themes like class and gender. With its short, spare sentences, Cain’s writing seems simple on the surface—but it is deeply observant of the human condition, female friendships, and art ... A short, elegant tale about female desire and societal expectations.
Cain...upends fairy tale endings in her stimulating story of insidious oppression ... Vitória’s deadpan voice and Cain’s finespun descriptions of quotidian disappointment energize this incisive tale. This novel disquiets with its potent, swift human dramas.