Color Plates

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Built on a walk through a privately-owned museum, a four-chambered version of art, Color Plates is not an easily defnable book.

Rose Metal Press prides itself on the hybrid nature of its titles, and Adam Golaski’s Color Plates is a perfect example of this cross-genre publishing niche. As with all good books, Color Plates has layers, a surface underneath a surface underneath a surface, but there is more at play in Golaski’s book, more refnement than simple addition, more complicated existence than just putting one on top of another – Color Plates sheds skin in each passage, reveals a depth beneath a depth, and unpacks words in a venturous way.

from ‘Book One: Éduoard Manet’:

“When the balcony breaks loose from the house, it rises up, Antoine falls out of his chair to his knees–his chair–in pieces, fies off the back of the balcony, smashes to bits against the mansion–Antoine’s cigar tumbles sparks, Berthe is thrown back, out of sight, and Jenny struggles to keep her balance, she’s on all fours and she’s screaming, to me, for help, or she’s just screaming her confusion (her voice a violin). I tumble over backwards, but not down the hill, I’m carried on the crest of the hill–the sky, big, huge, empty, blue.”

Built on a walk through a privately-owned museum, a four-chambered version of art, Color Plates is not an easily defnable book. Of course hybrid texts force this defying of genre, but Golaski’s book is a particularly apt example. This is not a novel in a narrative walk, but a curated visage through four rooms of a museum: Éduoard Manet, Edgar Degas, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and Mary Cassatt, as told through sixty-three loosely overlapping fash-length stories. Golaski’s writing is vivid and poignant, full with intense phrasing, but there is also the added bonus that what seem to be separate stories based on artwork, are in actuality a narrative unto themselves, compiling and compounding with each room we visit.

from ‘Book Two: Edgar Degas’:

“The girl cut fourteen little ballerinas. She cut a mirror from white paper–the way white paper caught color was like a mirror, the girl thought. With watercolor, she dabbed peach and pink on the ballerinas: a bow, a fower. She cut an instructor, an old man with a cane. The girl missed the instructor: she cut him from a sheet of bright yellow.”

And while Color Plates intentionally confates genre throughout its stories, it also pushes its hybrid nature into the header of each piece too, introducing the individual color plates by a description of the concrete art that spurred the writing, i.e. “[Plate 23] / ‘The Dancing Class’ / 1880, 24 3/4 x 18 7/8”, and followed up with a poetic addendum that seeks to stretch the gap between reality and the stories themselves.

from ‘Book Three: Henri De Toulouse-Lautrec’:

“Of course, my wife had found the moment, that image I carried with me; she seemed to fnd it over and over: right leg bent, toes to the foor; left leg locked; body bent slightly at the waist; focused on the task of pulling up a dark stocking; green-blue blouse around her neck, held up by her shoulders; breasts uncovered, sun bright on her chest; red hair, tied back but tumbled forward. Yet—“

Golaski builds this book on visual art, but my hybrid reference point is in literature. In terms of style and phrasing, reading Color Plates is a lovely cross between The Great Gatsby and contemporary writers like Lydia Davis or Norman Lock – a blend of the smooth and fuid Fitzgerald parties, where the night sky is lit with strung blubs, and the curt, often cold, nature of writers like Lock and Davis, who step on our veins as they work their way across our bodies. Stem to stern Adam Golaski’s Color Plates does what it intends: fusion.

from ‘Book Four: Mary Cassat’:

“Here, in the country, the darkness outside is deep. I’m used to moving by the slight- light as the moon sets. Used to the numb trees and the spike darkness between. Animals come out of the forest and drop to the lawn, grass that has grown wild and high. Sleeping deer: these animals crash to the ground, their sleep-poses unnatural. There was a string of time during which I woke only in the small hours. After a while I could no longer imagine anything but hunger-ache and black grass and sleeping animals. A fox asleep next to my head. Broken-winged birds pepper every feld. I hope some of the city remains and is brightly lit as cities are meant to be. I want us to be visible from space for as long as is humanly possible.”

J. A. Tyler is the author of The Zoo, a Going (Dzanc Books). His work has appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Diagram, Denver Quarterly, New York Tyrant, Fairy Tale Review, and others. Find him online at or on Twitter at @J_A_Tyler. More from this author →