Interviewing Matisse, or The Woman Who Died Standing Up: A Novel

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Press:Harper Perennial Harper Perennial (April 11, 2006)
Publication Date:2006-4-1
Author Name:Lily Tuck


Lily, Molly, and Inez are women of a certain age, of a certain bearing, of a certain class. 
Late one dire night, Molly telephones from Connecticut to catch Lily up with the news: Inez's corpse -- near-naked but wearing boots -- has been discovered propped up "like a broom" in a corner of her Soho loft.
It is an occasion ripe for an all-night heart-to-heart conversation, bouncing deliriously from one evasion to the next -- until the pair of talk-crazy, talk-weary women have successfully diverted themselves with all the wonderfully vagrant stuff of life .
with everything, in fact, except grief.

About the Author

Born in Paris, LILY TUCK is the author of four previous novels: Interviewing Matisse, or the Woman Who Died Standing Up; The Woman Who Walked on Water; Siam, or the Woman Who Shot a Man, which was nominated for the 2000 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction; and The News from Paraguay, winner of theNational Book Award. 
She is also the author of the biography Woman of Rome: A Life of Elsa Morante.
Her short stories have appeared in The New Yorker and are collected in Limbo and Other Places I Have Lived.
Lily Tuck divides her time between Maine and New York City.


Literature & Fiction,Women's Fiction,Friendship,Contemporary,Literary

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Comment List (Total:4)

  •     Hunting for a weekend read at my favorite book store, the Harper Perennial edition of Lily Tuck's 1991 novel "Interviewing Matisse or the Woman Who Died Standing Up" caught my eye. I fell for the title and the clever cover art (see the illustration) and bought it with only a casual glance at the text. If you know the book, you know that I was in for a surprise. It begins when the narrator, Lily (hardly a coincidence), gets a 2:00 a.m. telephone call from her friend Molly and doesn't end until the two hang up as the sun rises 148 pages of continuous chit chat later. No chapter headings or any other breaks in the flow.Not a verbatim transcript, but rather the narrator's recollection of what the two had to say to each other in their marathon conversation. At first, the format was off-putting. But the more I read, the better I liked it. Molly called Lily to impart the distressing news that "She died standing up." Lily, who knows Molly's voice, asks, "what?" "Standing up. Inez. Hello?" And off we go. They two have not a little to say about the late lamented Inez as the hours pass, but much more about their own lives, lovers, maladies, mishaps, children, friends, travel experiences and political views, all in a pleasant gossipy manner.Tuck makes this work in a number of ways. Lily the character is clearly having a bit of fun at the expense of Lily the author's phone habits. Lily and Molly are worldly, well informed, sexually rather sophisticated in a practical way, and enjoy the badinage. The conversation is sprinkled with interesting tidbits the two picked up along the way. My favorite, this one from Molly telling Lily about an experience in France:"The gardener was there too. His name was Lucien . . . a very old man, and Lucien told everyone how he could remember the war of . . . eighteen something. . . . The war when the Russians occupied Paris. . . . Lucien said that when the Russian soldiers went to eat at the French restaurants, they would bang their fists on the table at the same time and they would shout out to the waiters: BISTRO, BISTRO! Which means hurry in Russian and the name stuck." Molly also relates the origin of the phrase "bite the bullet."While we never do find out how Inez managed to die standing up, which you have to admit is a good trick, we do, after several misses, get to the truth about Molly's interview with Matisse. It was worth waiting for. If this book doesn't keep you pleasantly absorbed for the three hours or so it takes to read, I miss my guess.End Note. "Talking Helps", the title I chose for the review is a phrase from the text that seemed made to order. The runnerups, all from the text: "Running the gaumet," "Stuck in the Lincoln Tunnel" and "But maybe this is love.".
  •     I liked this book but didn't love it the way I loved The News From Paraguay. That book blew me away, and this one is pleasant read, a nice way to spend an afternoon.
  •     Every odd paragraph begins "Molly said". Every even paragraph begins "I said". The entire novel of 148 pages consists of the back and forth phone conversation between Molly and Lily. Molly called Lily at 1:15 in the morning to tell her that their mutual friend Inez had been found dead, propped upright next to the service elevator in her apartment wearing her bra and panties and old-fashioned galoshes. The two then talk until 5:00 in the morning.They talk about Inez, her two sons, her current live-in boyfriend, her ex-husband Price and his second wife Fiddle. They talk about their husbands, mutual acquaintances, and the petty vexations of life in 1990 -- in Manhattan for Lily and in Old Saybrook, Connecticut for Molly. And they talk about their own lives: Lily about how her father knew Ernest Hemingway, about the time when vacationing in North Africa the Moroccan threw a rock through the windshield of their car, about her golden retriever Jason and how he died when she left him in a closed car on a hot summer day while she went to see a movie in an air-conditioned theater with Marcelline. And on and on. Molly about how back in the 1950s she saw Jack Kennedy at the Trevi Fountain in Rome, about running over Alicia Thomas's cat, about the time she went swimming in her underwear in the pool of Henri Matisse and then took a photograph of the elderly wheelchair-bound artist while the French-Canadian journalist she was sleeping with interviewed him. And on and on.INTERVIEWING MATISSE captures the patterns and tropes of gossipy conversation between two friends; the meandering progression from topic to topic; the periodic checking to see if the other is still following; the forgetting and grasping for names and other details; and the occasional instances of losing one's thread in the conversational labyrinth they are unconsciously constructing.Their conversation is often marked with unintentional humor. For example: "My father died of an aneurism sitting right there at his desk, and what this makes me think of is how my father said he wanted to be cremated. Cremated in his white linen suit, he said. A suit he had had made to measure in England--especially. Only when he died, the suit no longer fit him. My mother had to have that white linen suit altered, Lily. I tried to talk my mother out of it--out of letting out the suit. I told my mother if my father was going to be buried this would have been different."There also are moments of unwitting irony. For example: "I hate to make small talk. I have no small talk to make."But that's what the book is - small talk between two rather vacuous, privileged, middle-aged women who in the process of nattering on and on are both consoling one another and diverting themselves from the mysterious death of their friend. As a matter of literary technique, INTERVIEWING MATISSE is an accomplishment. It also is mildly entertaining. It is not - in any way, shape, or form - enriching or ennobling. So, four stars.
  •     This book talks about events whom could like no very important, but in a certain way they could be considered a model of a new culture of the modernity. In fact they are related to the true life of persons who don't be particularly intelligent, but who have a certain sensibility for the world of art and the philosophy.Those facts allows us to follow this context so descript and those men live a classical situations.The lecture results speed and in the same time elegant for the many references to the cultural world.Lili Tuck intertests the lector just for those particularities, so doing fluent the narration .

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