Monday, March 28, 2011

The Face of the Naked Lady by Michael Rips

While this is portrayed as a memoir many of the incidents and characters appear as fictionalized—or if not fictive they are drawn larger then life. What makes this a throughly believable story is the search of a son for his father's identity. It is not as if Nick doesn't know his father—a conservative mid-western Republican father; however, when after his father's death Rips discovers several canvases his father painted—he wondered about the father he didn't know. The subject of the canvases— a nude black woman.

What follows goes back and forth in time and celebrates an array of eccentric events—a dead body falling through a ceiling, a man digging graves in a volcano—and some events that while humorous were lewd. Rips discovers that his grandparents ran a brothel and his father spent a good part of his youth being brought up in that brothel.

His father ran an eyeglass factory and many of the people he hired were eccentric and social misfits. And they—each and every one— were important to him.

Mixed in with the flamboyant characters and events Rips engages in a number of philosophical outpourings. It is Levinas whose thought captures his imagination. In fact there are times that Rips leaves his search to explicate Levinas's thoughts, but by the end of the book we understand that there is a connection.

Rips uses a Bearded Priest — "before becoming a Bearded Priest, he had raised bird dogs and before that worked in a lumberyard...Now he spent his time reading Emmanuel Levinas and fishing off a pier on Fourteenth Street."— to ponder consciousness and ethics.

The humor of the book, the blurring of the line between a documentary retelling of the story, the surreal landscape of events— and the philosophical writings create a stepping stone to a discovery about his father.

"We live at the edge of change, but refuse to see it, until something pulls us out the window or sucks us up a chute ..."

Take a Chance Challenge

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