Paulina & Fran by Rachel B. Glaser
Harper Perennial, 2015; 256 pp
Reviewed by Elise Matthews
I've always had a romantic view of the art world and have always envied those who can paint and sculpt and design gorgeous, meaningful works of art. Rachel B. Glaser's Paulina & Fran turns all those romanticized notions upside down. The students who populate Paulina's art school are narcissistic, selfish, and often just gross human beings, including Paulina. These characters are all lost but are also desperate to appear otherwise.
Character and language drive Glaser's novel. Paulina's life is a whirlwind, so the narration is as well. At first, I found myself desperate for a breath, somewhere to get hold of the story. But Paulina—a strange, train wreck of a character—waits for no one, and she sucked me in.
Paulina alienates everyone, even her closest friends, yet she is constantly surrounded by these friends, acquaintances, and lovers. She pretends she needs no meaningful attachments. Though Paulina dominates the novel early on, Fran slowly pushes her way in. She feels innocent and vulnerable in a way the rest of the fast-moving cast often does not.
When Fran and Paulina cross paths, both of their lives explode. They're helplessly drawn to each other despite also being repelled by each other. Shortly after becoming friends, they burn the friendship to the ground. Yet neither can ever really escape the other. They're each a monstrous, invisible force of destruction and longing in the other's life.