Amina Cain

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Amina Cain

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.


Vitória is a cleaning woman in a museum, but longs to be a writer. She meets and swiftly marries a wealthy man, who wants her to do nothing but relax. With this new-found leisure, Vitória works diligently, obsessively, on her craft. She has lost touch with her museum colleague, Antoinette, but finds a new friend, Mona, at a ballet class she attends. The person she sees most often is the maid, Solange, with whom she develops a mildly antagonistic relationship. While Vitória wants for nothing material, and has so many freedoms that are unimaginable to her former peers, she seems somehow almost entirely unsatisfied. The source of her dissatisfaction runs deep, and she’s not prepared to compromise on her happiness.

Indelicacy is a simply told story, a domestic drama set in an unspecified time and place, but which is written with an elegance that might remind the reader of the classics of the late nineteenth century in its careful rendering of narrative, and its austere prose. Amina Cain writes poignantly about the life of a creative woman, whose acquired freedoms and privileges are also her shackles. She asks, how can a person live an authentic life, when they are always already constrained and constructed by social expectations, by class, and by gender? What is the role of the self in perpetuating those constraints, even as they are ignored or undone? What is creativity when it is left only to those with the luxury of time? And, ultimately, when can a person know that she has what she wants? Indelicacy is the kind of novel that creeps up on the reader, with a depth and complexity of ideas that belie its length.

Alison Huber is the head book buyer at Readings.

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