Since it thrives upon candor, revelation, and the imaginative input of the reader, the novel stands as the only media form to portray sex as anything like what sex is actually like. In Ellis Avery's The Last Nude, the sex – between painter Tamara de Lampicka and the model who posed for her 1927 work La Belle Rafaela – feels ripe and real and vital, the very element that artist, model, and masterwork together create, inhabit, and flourish within. Avery likewise summons ecstasy from brushstrokes and fabrics, and, toward the novel's end, from memory itself. This all takes place in Paris, so there's some rote Shakesepare & Co. cameos to get through (Joyce is described as a bit of a sitcom neighbor, popping in to behave ridiculously), but the novel is for the most part too tough-minded to fall into nostalgia for the Malcolm Cowley crew. The no-big-deal way that young Rafaela, the narrator, slips into prostitution in the opening chapters reveals something of Avery's vision: a gorgeous Parisian love story, but not a polite or idealized one.
Fri., Jan. 13, 7:30 p.m., 2012