Cuevas would, of course, later go on to write a number of excellent things under her Judith Ivory pseudonym, almost all of which (to varying degrees) would find a place on my keeper shelf. The word that comes to mind is sophisticated. She's just so damned sophisticated. But it's not merely that--it's that she assumes readers are capable of a similar sophistication. There's something very dangerous and wonderful about a book that pays such an extravagant compliment to your intelligence. It's tempting to say that the richness of language and characterization in these books spoiled me for all others; it didn't. But, even still, every time I reread an Ivory, I have to wonder how I'm going to content myself with anything else. The appeal's that visceral. This will be the first in a series of intermittent posts that tries to analyze some of what makes up that appeal.
How about a list? Though I might make minor changes on any given day, depending on what mood I'm in, here's how I generally rank Ivory's books in terms of craft, skill, and delightful idiosyncrasies:
3. Untie My Heart
5. Black Silk
6. Sleeping Beauty
7. The Indiscretion
8. The Proposition
(Note: I haven't read Angel in a Red Dress. I'll get around to it someday but, for now, it's nice to know that there's one Ivory out there still waiting for me.)
In thinking about Ivory as a stylist, I'll be focusing mainly on Bliss, Dance, and Black Silk--in part because these are the novels I happen to have at hand. A few introductory words about the former two: one thing I love about Bliss and Dance is that they feature a historical setting that doesn't often make its way into romance. I adore unusual historicals, especially those in which the background feels like an organic part of the story rather than token exoticism. While France in the first decades of the twentieth century doesn't seem particularly radical at first blush--it's still Europe, after all--it's definitely an underutilized setting in Historicals. But Ivory doesn't merely transplant generic characters and issues into an unusual landscape. It's paramount to both Bliss and Dance that plot and character derive from the unique confluence of culture, technology, and history specific to France in the early twentieth century. Freud, Marx, the Lumière brothers, modernist sculpture and painting, feminism, economics, law--all these features of the cultural landscape become a part of Ivory's worldbuilding without ever overwhelming us with detail. When they enter the story directly, these discourses of ideas are never impersonal fireworks displays of erudition, given to us in a cold, impersonal narrative voice. Instead, they are pressing issues for the characters themselves as they work out their relationships to each other and to the world...
To be continued.