Indelicacy, 2020 from Farrar, Straus and Giroux (cover art by June Park).
In “a strangely ageless world somewhere between Emily Dickinson and David Lynch” (Blake Butler), a cleaning woman at a museum of art nurtures aspirations to do more than simply dust the paintings around her. She dreams of having the liberty to explore them in writing, and so must find a way to win herself the time and security to use her mind. She escapes her lot by marrying a rich man, but having gained a husband, a house, high society, and a maid, she finds that her new life of privilege is no less constrained. Not only has she taken up different forms of time-consuming labor—social and erotic—but she is now, however passively, forcing other women to clean up after her. Perhaps another and more drastic solution is necessary?
Reminiscent of a lost Victorian classic in miniature, yet taking equal inspiration from such modern authors as Jean Rhys, Octavia Butler, Clarice Lispector, and Jean Genet, Amina Cain’s Indelicacy is at once a ghost story without a ghost, a fable without a moral, and a down-to-earth investigation of the barriers faced by women in both life and literature. It is a novel about seeing, class, desire, anxiety, pleasure, friendship, and the battle to find one’s true calling.
“What would a Vermeer look like painted by its subject? Measured, intense, precise, explosive, sensual, violent, mesmerising.” —Joanna Walsh
“Amina Cain is a phenomenal writer. I adore her work, and sensibility. Indelicacy isn’t merely a book, it’s a world; a world I wanted to live in, forever. Its near-and-far atmosphere is partly due to Cain’s unfazed handling of discrepant essences and qualities. Arch, yet warm; aspiring and impervious; confiding and enigmatic; reposing and intrepid; Cain has conjured a protagonist who purged my mind and filled my heart.” —Claire-Louise Bennett
“Indelicacy is a novel like the tolling of a great bell. It will move your heart. Amina Cain’s writing is the rarest kind: it creates not only new scenes and characters, but new feelings.” —Sofia Samatar
“In Indelicacy we meet a woman who spends time studying landscape paintings and then walking inside the landscapes where she lives. She looks at a landscape then moves inside another, and as we read it begins to seem that the landscapes in paintings and in fiction are eerily the same. In a deeply pleasing way, reading this novel is a bit like standing in a painting, a masterful study of light and dark, inside and out, freedom and desire. Amina Cain is one of my favorite writers. I loved reading this book.” —Danielle Dutton
“To read Amina Cain’s Indelicacy is akin to donning magnifying spectacles that distill a woman’s past into modern reality, these lucid and uncanny lenses remaining on the eye far beyond her pages.” —Josephine Foster
“Amina Cain redefines strangeness and freedom in this beautiful and unusual novel that resembles fairy tales and ghost stories but feels intensely contemporary.” —Alejandro Zambra
“Acutely observed, Indelicacy is an exquisite jewel box of a novel with the passion and vitality found only in rare and necessary works such as The Hour of the Star and The Days of Abandonment. Through this timeless examination of solitude, art, and friendship Amina Cain announces herself as one of the most intriguing contemporary writers of our time.” —Patrick Cottrell
“I read [Indelicacy] slowly, in a kind of reverie, wanting to savour every page. It is so exquisite and precise that I felt I wanted to read it constantly, to live inside it . . . A completely absorbing, luminous account of a woman inhabiting her life and creativity.” —Megan Hunter
“With simplicity and wisdom, Amina Cain’s Indelicacy strips away the clutter of the modern novel, leaving only her narrator’s concentrated attention and yearning. As a tribute to the history of its own form, Indelicacy manages to expand our ideas of both the classic and the contemporary.” —Tim Kinsella
“I was spellbound by Amina Cain’s Indelicacy, partly because it is a lucid novel about human relationships, the soul, art, and change; partly because it is an intelligent yet raw tale about what ruptures are required to grow room for oneself; partly because of its witty juxtaposition of good and bad; but mostly because it is deeply original, like nothing I’ve ever read before.” — Gunnhild Øyehaug
“Amina Cain’s diligence, patience, and clarity of vision are unparalleled. This is a writer profoundly aware of the impact and import of silence. Her sentences echo long after they’ve landed on the page. Keep your eyes peeled for Indelicacy.” —Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi
“Cain’s small but mighty novel reads like a ghost story and packs the punch of a feminist classic.” — Editors’ Choice, The New York Times
“Indelicacy takes the happy-ever-after myth and turns it on its head, as the narrator Vitória, a former cleaner who marries a rich man and loses sight of herself, dances along the fault lines of gender, class and privilege. Cain writes with elegance on art and friendship, creating a fictional world that feels more like a painting than a book. I inhaled this strange and shimmering novel in a single sitting.” –Ana Kinsella, AnOther Magazine
“This sparse, elliptical novel finds new complexities in the familiar conflict between creative independence and the lures of traditional domesticity . . . stripped of all inessential details, the narrative has the simplicity of a parable—one whose images lodge themselves uneasily in the mind.” –Briefly Noted, The New Yorker
“A slip of a novel, Indelicacy can easily be read in one sitting. Set in a nameless city at an indefinite point in history, the feminist plot calls to mind various Victorian classics – its narrator starts out as a cleaning lady in a gallery before marrying “well” in order to pursue her dream of writing – but Cain’s writing also feels brilliantly, eerily contemporary, and is peppered with references to works ranging from Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea to Jean Genet’s The Maids.” — Vogue UK
“Fairy tale isn’t quite the right term to describe Cain’s prose; there is a fable-esque quality, yes, in its refusal to name places or dates, and she touches on familiar archetypes—Cinderella, the woman in need of a room of her own, the well-meaning but useless husband—with the ease of spinning straw into gold. Ultimately, though, this novel is a celebration of writing, and women’s writing in particular.” –Rhian Sasseen, The Paris Review Daily
“Last and never least is Amina Cain’s soon-to-be-published Indelicacy. Its title is a swift, elegant repudiation. I develop a synesthesia when considering Cain’s writing. I imagine Cain like Virginia Woolf’s Lily Briscoe standing before a canvas, painting her book with lush but controlled strokes, the painting itself airy, allowing ample room to move within and breathe.” –Anne Yoder, The Millions
“Though set in an indeterminate past of horse-drawn carriages and hushed drawing rooms, Amina Cain’s slim, precisely wrought debut novel reads as a fresh consideration of what it means to be a female artist. The old private and public expectations are still there for the narrator—a museum cleaning woman who marries well—but they aren’t what drives the story; rather it is her unwavering desire to write and take in art and grand experiences. In its tight focus, the novel also acts as something of a character study: Vitória exhibits the cool confidence of someone who needs no convincing of her purpose.” —The A.V. Club
“A sort of ghostly arthouse Cinderella, Amina Cain’s Indelicacy features a cleaning woman who becomes a wealthy wife, opening her attention to anything she chooses. “I felt the earrings would make the rich people at the party kind to me,” the protagonist says, “and that if I kept them my whole life, they would guard me against becoming poor again, against becoming a future hag.” Cain’s prose vibrates with fear and wonder. This is a novel I read three times slowly, basking in each phrase.” –Nate McNamara, Lit Hub
“This beautiful volume presents a compelling and unexpected take on women’s fulfillment in love, work and the world. Feminist and meticulous, Indelicacy is fresh, graceful and gratifyingly daring.” –Karla Strand, Ms.
Amina Cain’s Creature brings together short fictions set in the space between action and reflection, edging at times toward the quiet and contemplative, at other times toward the grotesque or unsettling. Like the women in Jane Bowles’s work, Cain’s narrators seem always slightly displaced in the midst of their own experiences, carefully observing the effects of themselves on their surroundings and of their surroundings on themselves. Other literary precursors might include Raymond Carver and John Cage, some unlikely concoction of the two, with Carver’s lucid prose and instinct for the potency of small gestures and Cage’s ability to return the modern world to elementary principles. These stories offer not just a unique voice but a unique narrative space, a distinct and dramatic rendering of being-in-the-world.
“Amina Cain is a beautiful writer. Like the girl in the rear view mirror in your backseat, quiet, looking out the window half smiling, then not, then glancing at you, curious to her. That is how her thoughts and words make me feel, like clouds hanging with jets, and knowing love is pure.” — Thurston Moore
“To be among Amina Cain’s creatures is to stand in the presence of what is mysterious, expansive, and alive. Whether these distinctly female characters are falling in and out of uncanny intimacies, speaking from the hidden realms of the unconscious, seeking self-knowledge, or becoming visible in all their candor and strangeness, they move through a universe shaped by the gravitational pull of elusive yet resilient forces—the yin-dark energies of instinct and feeling that animate creative life. It’s here that the intuitive reach of fiction meets the reader’s own quest for understanding, through the subtle beauty of living the truth of one’s experiences in the most attentive and unadorned way possible.” — Pamela Lu
Question: “If you had to think of a motion you’ve made more than any other in your whole life, what would it be?” Response: “I don’t want to be a motion.”
In her debut collection of fifteen short stories, Amina Cain makes ordinary worlds strange and spare and beautiful. A woman carves invisible images onto ice, a pair of black wings appears in front of a house, and a restless teacher sits in a gallery of miniature rooms.
“Neurologically, touching and being touched, whether that’s brushing up against some kind of stalk-like, goldeny things in a tundra or being politely nudged into the back-seat of a Buick Le Sabre, is how a body locates itself in the softest kind of time. For bodies that have experienced a proprioceptive disturbance, touch thus becomes a way of re-building the nervous system. I’m fascinated by the way Cain does this–builds a nervous system–as an act of narrative. For example, when a person, in the deep part of her book, is at their most vulnerable, blurting out banal things to the person they are desperately, secretly in love with and then saying things in their head like “you stupid bloody idiot, why, why, why did you say that?” or somehow stumbling into a forested area above a busy road, on a day when everything else has totally gone to shit they are, by deep chance, met. Something comes towards them and doesn’t go away.” — Bhanu Kapil
Out of print.