In Pure Colour (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Sheila Heti stages a human encounter inside a leaf. Paradoxically, this novel is a work of pure realism. It opens in a biblical mood, declaring a simple system to sort all human essences into three types: bird, fish, or bear. And as in the Bible, Heti describes multiple planes of existence with uncanny authority. We are introduced to Mira, a bird type, whose beloved father, a bear type, has recently died. Mira—her voice pure, childlike, uncensored—uses the verb ejaculate countless times to describe the sensation of her father’s body entering her body after death. What ensues is a rare meeting of the metaphysical and the actual: Mira meets her father in “a leaf in a tree by the lake.” The leaf is simply a leaf, fundamental and essential, but it is also a kind of bardo. Inside the leaf, father and daughter are merged as one, yet maintain their separate perspectives. At first, they sit together in perfect stillness and quiet, but then they talk, their voices merging too, and in concert with their voices, Heti’s tone becomes as weightless as a leaf. On the physical plane, their meeting would of course be impossible. But we recognize their encounter as real because we perceive that this text was not written but channeled, and their plane of existence is shimmering.
Annie-B Parson is a choreographer and the artistic director of Big Dance Theater. She is currently choreographing two operas: The Hours and Candide. Her book The Choreography of Everyday Life was recently published by Verso Press.