When I was a child, I much preferred staying in the house than venturing into the relatively inoffensive world of the 1990s. Home felt safe and loving, while outside I could run into who knew what, which resulted in me playing in my room with my Legos instead of running around outside with friends.
Flash forward to two years ago, when I was a junior in college. The days of sitting in my bed playing with Legos had long passed (mostly) but I was still a bit more of a loner than most. In the middle of the winter a friend of mine passed me a novel called Yellow by Janni Visman. He almost always knew exactly what type of book I’d like, so there was a solid shot that I’d read it. Still, I had a large backload of books and in all likelihood I wouldn’t be getting to Yellow anytime soon.
Of course, I’d yet to read the back of the book and everything changed once I did. The back description told me that Visman’s book is about a woman named Stella who never leaves her home. She runs a successful massage business out of her apartment and is even married to a man named Ivan despite her crippling agoraphobia. The description grabbed me and I started to read it right away. I believe the book took me all of three days to read–days when I had four different classes to attend, mind you.
Yellow is a psychosexual novel, one that would make for a perfect play as it takes place almost all within one apartment. Our protagonist believes her husband is having an affair after she finds a photo of a woman in his belongings. Almost any other book or film would go in a different direction. One would assume that Stella would begin an investigation, hoping her theory wrong, yet growing despondent as more evidence arises. The film version of such a story would star Julia Roberts or Drew Barrymore, I’m sure.
Suffice to say, Yellow is not so predictable. Stella begins to slowly change her appearance so that she looks uncannily like the woman in the photo. It’s a brilliant idea, at once sexy and incredibly disturbing. There’s a feeling of both erotica and tragedy in every scene between Ivan and Stella, as we see Ivan respond to the changes in Stella’s appearance and behavior.
Not unlike reality, neither Stella nor Ivan ever states how she or he truly feels, always talking in innuendo or with subtle hints, too scared to address anything outright. At one point, Ivan calls Stella at home and asks how she is on a scale of 1 to 10. “Five-point-five,” Stella says, stating to the reader “this is the borderline mark, lower and he would come home.” This scene is a perfect microcosm of the novel; both Ivan and Stella know something is about to explode, but neither can address it directly.
When I was young I was never so afraid to go out that I stayed in the house for months on end, but I can understand Stella’s fear of what goes on outside her apartment. She can barely comprehend the events that go on within the little world she has created for herself, let alone the world that lurks outside beyond. I find it hard to believe there is anyone who can say he or she hasn’t felt the same way at one point in his or her life.
However, we also all have moments where we change, or at least consider changing, to please someone else. Never have I seen a more chilling account of how this can destroy not just one person, but also the people that person knows. Visman allows us to go deep into Stella’s head and we simultaneously both agree with and abhor the decisions Stella makes. At no point does Visman allow the reader to fully damn or praise Stella, but she does make sure we always understand her motivations in a way few authors can do.
Visman’s Yellow, along with her previous novel, Sex Education, received critical praise upon release but commercially fared not so well. Visman has, sadly, not released another book since Yellow, although interviews she’s given since the novel’s release reveal that she’s working on one. If she doesn’t manage to get a publisher for it, the literary world will be a lesser place.