Amina Memory Cain

Indelicacy, 2020 from Farrar, Straus and Giroux (cover art by June Park).

And w/ Daunt Books in the UK, Strange Light/Penguin Random House in Canada, Text Publishing in Australia, Plot Ediciones in Spain (translated by Inés Clavero), and as an audiobook with Tantor Media. A translation is forthcoming in Bulgarian.

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.

Reviews:

“If the Little Match Girl hadn’t frozen to death on the next page, she might have grown up to be the narrator of Amina Cain’s weird, quiet debut novel, “Indelicacy.” To be clear, I mean weird in the best way — as in eyebrow raising, tantalizing and unforgettable. This is a book that holds you at an arm’s length, not the other way around.” Elisabeth Egan, The New York Times

“The book could be set in the nineteenth century or in the twenty-second. It is as if it exists in a strange no-place, which is perhaps Cain’s way of indicating that the story she is about to tell is ageless, even outside of time.” Sarah Resnick, Bookforum

“Cain’s bone-clean prose creates a sense of immersion in a story that feels both mythic and true.” Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, The Guardian

“The voice is perfect – intrepid but assured, appreciative and curious, an outsider, in short, a writer.” Sarah Gilmartin, The Irish Times

“Living within an unembellished aesthetic tableau, Vitória is a character of sensory excess, inclined to spend her time at dance classes, libraries, the ballet, or, most often, simply thinking.” Nathan NcNamara, Los Angeles Review of Books

“Though Cain sets her book in an implied 18th century, the total effect calls to mind the spaceless and sumptuous red plains of La Dame à la licorne, a series of medieval tapestries at Paris’s Cluny Museum.” Abby Walthausen, The Believer

“Indelicacy, though, is a thing of real delicacy, with a fine, distilled quality to the writing, every word precisely chosen, precisely placed. At first it seems almost too sparse, each chapter just a few pages, with Vitória as enigmatic and elusive as her surroundings. We’re in an unnamed country in an unnamed point in history. But there’s a slyness to Cain’s writing that cuts through, and makes the tale increasingly engrossing. By the end, you walk in step with her heroine as she finds her own path towards freedom.” Holly Williams, The Observer/Guardian

“Cain’s concentrated, subtle, and intriguing portrait of an evolving artist resolutely rejecting gender and class roles, with its subtle nods to Jean Rhys, Clarice Lispector, and Octavia Butler, explores the risks and rewards of a call to create and self-liberate.” Donna Seaman, Booklist starred review

The most famous first-person story starts with a chapter titled, “I am born”. Here Cain concentrates on a woman trying, artistically and intellectually, to be born. Mark Thomas, The Canberra Times.

“To read Amina Cain is to enter tide pools of the mind. On its surface, her fiction is quiet, lovely, contained, but sit with any passage and that which seems still uncoils and comes alive.” Alissa Hattman, The Rumpus

“Books don’t have to be sagas to make an impression. Indelicacy’s undemanding prose style can likewise easily be a speed read. Perhaps it was always Cain’s intention to draw in busy readers quickly and easily, then suspend us, helpless and happy, in the extraordinary world she has created, unmoored in time or place.” Isabel Berwick, The Financial Times

“Τhe connotations of ‘becoming’ here are multivalent—her husband means it as unsuitable, unseemly, unattractive. Indelicate. The novel, though, is about an uninterrupted emergence and shaping of the self. Yet Indelicacy is not only introverted. The novel turns outward while also, reflexively, remaining its subject.” Natalie Bakopoulos, Fiction Writers Review

While the book features vulgarities . . . its language and fragmented structure are gauzy and fine . . . The real magic of Cain’s slim novel lies in its restraint and precision . . . with its soft atmosphere and appreciation of the unspoken, the book evokes the filmmaking of Sofia Coppola, Joanna Hogg or Claire Denis.” Alina Cohen, The Observer

Cain . . . works with insight and finely crafted writing, making Indelicacy perfect for fans of Virginia Woolf and Michael Cunningham.” Cindy Pauldine, Shelf Awareness starred review

“With its short, spare sentences, Cain’s writing seems simple on the surface—but it is deeply observant of the human condition, female friendships, and art. A short, elegant tale about female desire and societal expectations.” Kirkus Reviews

“Vitória’s deadpan voice and Cain’s finespun descriptions of quotidian disappointment energize this incisive tale. This novel disquiets with its potent, swift human dramas.” Publishers Weekly

“It’s appropriate that Amina Cain initially situates Vitória, the protagonist of her haltingly beautiful new collection of prosodies, as a cleaning lady in a museum. Her novel, laid out in sections that rarely move beyond a few pages, maintains a fractious semblance of narrative movement throughout.” Michael Workman, New City

“It’s remarkable to witness how, after cutting away each unnecessary word, there is room – even in a novel of this size – to cover such an array of fascinating subjects, whilst adding something bracingly new to the discourse. Indelicacy has the makings of a modern classic, and is destined to be a book that women, in particular, hold close to their hearts.” Chloe Walker, Culture Fly

“Old-world markers abound—horses and candlelight, embroidery and feathered hats—but the atmosphere is that of a parable, as if Vitória is writing herself into existence outside historical time, an effect enhanced by the snippets of other books that weave in and out of the text.” Lidija Haas, Harper’s

“Readers will debate whether Vitória’s final act towards her husband constitutes an act of liberation or one of gross cynicism, but it is this rupture that earns this delicately wrought Künstlerroman its title.” Tayt Harlin, Times Literary Supplement

Interviews: 

With Jaleh Brazell at Tank Magazine.

With Jess Payn at The Arts Desk.

With Naomi Skwarna at Hazlitt.

With Anne Yoder at The Millions.

With Patrick Cottrell at FSG’s Work in Progress.

With Sofia Samatar at Music & Literature.

With Tobias Carroll at Vol. 1 Brooklyn.

With Type Books.

With Martin Riker at The Paris Review Daily.

With Kate Durbin at LARB.

With Kyle Williams at Full Stop.

A conversation with Kate Zambreno for BOMB’s Room with a View series.

Elisabeth Egan talked about Indelicacy on the NYT Book Review Podcast.

Caren Beilin & I talked about our books for Full Stop.

I talked to Brad Listi at OTHERPPL.

A conversation with Adam Novy at Skylight Books.


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