A rare second-person narration: ‘It is Wood, It is Stone’ explores sexuality, relationships

Book of the Week

Emily DiSalvo, Arts and Life Editor

In a whirlwind two days of turning pages and dreaming of Brazil and love, I finished “It is Wood, It is Stone” by Gabriella Burnham. I loved every minute.

'It is Wood, It is Stone' features a rare second-person narration used as a way to show female subversion.
‘It is Wood, It is Stone’ features a rare second-person narration used as a way to show female subversion. (Emily DiSalvo)

A disillusioned wife, Linda, follows her academically driven husband, Dennis, as he pursues a teaching opportunity in São Paulo, Brazil, despite having no desire to leave her life in Hartford, Connecticut. Linda tells the story of her feeling helpless and useless by writing in the second person, “you” referring to her husband.

This stylistic decision shaped the tone of the book. Linda’s life was a reflection of Dennis’. Although Dennis was never abusive toward her, the book highlights the subtle ways in which some heterosexual relationships can subvert the woman without being outwardly toxic.

His decision to move to Brazil and hire a maid to do work in the new apartment effectively strands Linda in a country where she cannot work and have autonomy while her one remaining job of household chores is taken over by the maid, Marta.

A power struggle between Linda and Marta ensues while both fight to please Dennis. Linda develops a schedule in an attempt to divide the chores and allow herself to feel useful again. Marta isn’t OK with the plan.

Linda begins to venture out of the apartment on her own and the voice of “you” in the story becomes less and less relevant. She becomes infatuated by an actress and theater director, Celia, who shares her phone number with Linda.

In hopes of developing autonomy and a sense of self, Linda begins painting portraits. She quickly realizes all of them are of Celia. Dennis finds one hanging on the wall and takes it down because the eyes creep him out, furthering the divide between him and his wife.

Celia and Linda develop a friendship. Celia begins to teach Linda to speak Portugese, and Linda does not tell Dennis about the friendship.

One day, Linda flees the apartment to go to the beach with Celia, taking on an alternate identity known as “L,” entirely separate from the reign of Dennis. Celia tells Linda that she is in love with her housemate, Raphael, who is dating another woman. The two bond on the trip, but Linda becomes increasingly jealous of Raphael, uncertain of why he is deserving of Celia’s exquisite love.

On the final night of the trip, Celia and Linda sleep together but do not speak of it after — they return to their respective lives. I will keep the rest of the novel to myself because it is crucial

that you pick it up for yourself. The subtleties of the relationship between husband and wife and two friends who become lovers are so intense. I loved the way Burnham said so much about how Linda related to others without ever saying it. She is a master at creating scenarios that you want to read over and over again just to make sure you didn’t miss a stunning detail.

I have never read a book set in Brazil so it was interesting to learn about the culture there. I was also excited to see someone like Celia portrayed as one of the main characters because of her fluid sexuality.

My one critique for the book is that it was disappointing to see the LGBTQ characters shown as only having an extramarital affair rather than a healthy relationship. I hope as time goes on there continue to be more books about LGBTQ characters who are portrayed in a loyal relationship.

This book was published in 2020, so it is relatively new. I am really excited to see what comes next for Burnham as an author, and I suggest you check out this book because of the uniqueness of the characters, setting and narration.