In Magdalena Zurawski’s portrait of “M,” a student writer, the stereotyped emotional self-masochist is morphed into a highbrow discussion of existential crisis. That sounds like a lot to swallow. I assure you, The Bruise is not another modern (see also: whiney) riff off Camus’ The Stranger. By illustrating M’s woes rather than monologueing them (well, mostly) and pulling some impressive stylistic maneuvers, Zurawski renders her protagonist entertaining and relatable. The seemingly weighty question of what one’s relationship to a tangible world means for her existence is tackled through a series of vignettes, in which M frets to define herself—almost comically—by various people and objects.
You’re immediately engaged in M’s crisis when an angel materializes in her dorm room, nearly smothers her, and leaves a hefty bruise on her forehead. This moves you to grapple with the same question she’s confronting—just what is real and what is not. Since the query goes unanswered, it’s reasonable to wonder if M’s internal struggle has been self-inflicted—a rogue attempt by her brain to force her to become an active participant in her own life.
In good existential fashion, Zurawski walks us through several instances in which M obsesses over perception and the reality of her experience. In the chapter At the Table, M details the pesky, recurring thoughts she has while eating lunch with friends. She questions whether or not she is actually sitting at a table eating, or just watching herself sitting at a table eating. This is where Zurawski’s style tricks come in; she uses a kind of winding prose—reminiscent of reciting scripture in church—to underscore M’s neurosis …. “Something that so clearly should have felt like my own experience, seemed to be both my own experience and the experience of another person I was never able to reach but always seemed able to watch.” This style quickly permeates the book, and though it requires a particular kind of concentration from the reader, it refrains from feeling tired or overdone. The maintenance of the technique is, in itself, impressive.
In the novel’s latter sections, M grows increasingly concerned with how the bruise is manipulating her reality. If you have any doubt that she suffers from personality disorder, it is put to rest at this point, when her grossly conflicting desires are openly displayed: She wants to be freed of her worrisome thoughts but is simultaneously terrified at the slightest riff in routine. The anty is upped as she becomes romantically involved and must confront the typical tribulations of a relationship. From the midst of prolonged panic, the physical aspects of the bond force her to begin acknowledging her existence. Of course, this poses a slew of new dilemmas.
If, like myself, you have a short fuse for philosophical drama, I’d urge not to dismiss this story. The Bruise tackles the subject with rare grit that’s likely to win over the staunchest realist.
About the author:
Carly is a Marketing Consultant and Freelance Writer. Her creative work has previously been published in The Verse Marauder.