Bitter Water Opera
By Nicolette Polek
Graywolf, 136 pages, $16

Bitter Water Opera, the debut novel by Nicolette Polek published on Tuesday, asks exciting, original, and urgently relevant questions about the value and role of art. The book is a post-break-up story, whose depressed narrator first summons a whimsical visitor, then hits the road, staying in a lonely sublet followed by an eccentric hotel. Its events are largely metaphorical, and it is written in an atmospheric prose-driven style that creates a slightly altered realism. 

In its opening pages, Gia, the narrator, sends out an envelope with no address that’s “painted with watercolors” and contains a photograph of herself “dancing as a toad in my elementary school’s production of The Wind in the Willows,” along with a “pressed Whirligig daisy.” In response, an impossible visitor arrives: the real-life outsider-art figure Marta Becket, who ran an eccentric one-woman opera house in Death Valley Junction, Calif., between 1968 and 2012, and died in 2017. 

Get the best of Compact right in your inbox.

Sign up for our free newsletter today.

Great! Check your inbox and click the link.
Sorry, something went wrong. Please try again.