Empty Set by Verónica Gerber Bicecci
reviewed by jim hepplewhite
Ms. Gerber Biecci self-identifies as a visual artist who writes and that makes a lot of sense for the person that would eventually write Empty Set. That said, Empty Set works as a novel that her art background elevates tremendously.
A rough approximation of the novel's plot: the narrator, an Argentinean woman named Verónica, is imprisoned by stuck-in-a-cycle living and under-employment, and begins to make her way out of depression. I'm not sure to what extent the fiction is true to Ms. Gerber Biecci's life. The diagrams allow the book to show and not tell in two different mediums, which helps the work hit the desired notes better.
As far as I know, this approach is not entirely unique. In a completely different medium (Western comics), Johnathan Hickman enjoyed significant (perhaps life-changing?) success by letting stylized charts and diagrams carry flavor or information in his comics. But what separates Empty Set is the visual repetition of images, which reveal more and more layers the deeper I read through the book and Ms. Gerber Biecci's execution.
One of the repeating images that sticks with me is the tree rings, though given what happens further in the book, these could also represent a downward spiral. I enjoyed how Verónica's side-job organizing a dead woman's belongings is a neat metaphor for tree rings, while also introducing another part of the book: the establishment of a new cycle to ensnare Verónica.
For a self-described visual artist that writes, I get the impression that if Biecci decided to write a "pure" novel, she would achieve artistic success. Empty Set nails a sharp melancholy. Admittedly, the book starts slow, but after the halfway point, the engine kicks in. I completed the book in an hour-ish late night commute. When the lights dimmed and a streetlamp flickered, I saw myself in Verónica's shoes, able to see the cycles of her life and the lives before her, trying valiantly to break those encircling rings.