The Heart is an Involuntary Muscle, by Monique Proulx

The Heart is an Involuntary Muscle, by Monique Proulx (translated by David Homel & Fred A. Reed)

(translated by David Homel & Fred A. Reed)

“Nothing is simpler than to step through the doors of the universe. First, you switch on your computer. Then rapture begins, when you teeter on the edge with the world at your fingertips, gaping open like a gigantic box of candies that your two hands and your one lifetime could never hope to exhaust.”

This description sounds the first note of genuine passion in the voice of the forlorn narrator of Monique Proulx’s “The Heart is an Involuntary Muscle”. That it follows the emotionally stunted heroine’s last moments with her dying father is very telling. That Proulx is able to sustain the reader’s interest in the misadventures of a cynical, often thoughtless, only sporadically motivated and interpersonally inept narrator illustrates how deceptively accomplished and ultimately winning this book is.

Florence is a Web designer whose only other passion apart from drifting into the online ether is Zeno, the owner of the small Web design firm for which she works, and her on-again, off-again lover. Even the presumably most important and most passionate relationship in her life is intermittent at best. But it’s through the Web design business, which specializes in developing online presence for obscure or underappreciated writers and artists, that Florence finally discovers a subject worth abiding focus, interest and yes, passion. As she becomes entangled with a Thomas Pynchon-esque writer and his wife, Florence begins to confront the life she has lived thus far and assesses why she has not really invested in anyone or anything to that point.

“The Heart is an Involuntary Muscle” bogs down ever-so-slightly about midway, but the murkiness is more likely a reflection of Florence’s inarticulate bewilderment at the new feelings welling up as she becomes more enmeshed with the enigmatic writer than any shortcomings in Proulx’s (and her translators’) precision of expression. Overall, the book is very intriguing and insightful in terms of creating some rich, albeit sometimes frustrating but therefore authentic, characters. Surprisingly, the book’s plot grows increasingly suspenseful as Florence’s involvement with the writer and his wife, and her perhaps on-again relationship with Zeno reach interesting crescendos. The book also offers some intriguing asides about people and their personae and relationships or lack thereof as interactions are conducted online, which sit in striking and instructive contrast to the fumbling interactions of the characters in real life.

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