Albany’s Elisa Albert’s “Human Blues” deals with infertility, celebrity

When Albany author Elisa Albert discovered the no-nonsense, funny, acerbic voice of her character, singer-songwriter Aviva Rossner, she let Aviva take charge of the story.

Albert’s latest book “Human Blues” (Simon and Schuster) follows Aviva just as her fourth album is about to be released.  She is a critically acclaimed artist with a strong following, married to a wonderful man, but she’s still struggling to find contentment because of infertility.

“Her voice really got to me.  It started out as a little voice and just took over,” Albert said.  “I love her sharpness in contrast with her vulnerability.  You can’t have one without the other.  Her depth of feeling, her grace and her rage are all tied up together.  She’s unfiltered, which most likely explains why she has so many rabid fans as a singer.  We don’t encounter people like that very often.”

Albert said Aviva was so intense and so vivid, she decided not to write from her personal point of view.  “I wrote in first-person for my last book, and I wanted to tell this story in a different style.  It was also a necessary distancing tool to not be in Aviva’s head.  She is filled full with life and energy.  She’s inspiring and also exhausting.”

Aviva’s struggle to maintain her authenticity as an artist is one of the many themes in the novel.  “Amy Winehouse, the British pop singer, is kind of a patron saint for Aviva. Amy also had a strong intensity as a singer and a wild way of living her life. Aviva admires how Amy maintained her honesty as a singer and a performer.  Like Amy Winehouse, Aviva wants to be true to herself and not capitulate to everything that’s expected of her and lose her essential self.  You can’t tell a girl like Amy Winehouse what to do, and Aviva strives to be the same way.”

Albert grew up in Los Angeles and saw firsthand how many of her friends and associates got caught up in trying to be famous to attain money and power. In “Human Blues,” Albert explores how celebrity outweighs creativity.  “Our cultural obsession with fame in this country is really insane. Why do we obsess over it so much?  I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to deal with anything like real fame.  I see it as a curse, a hellish existence. You can become a prisoner of fame, and as a writer I only get a tiny taste of it, but that’s enough. Aviva wants fame and doesn’t want fame. It’s one of the ways she’s conflicted.”

Aviva has so much: Her loving husband, Sam, the successful recording career, passionate fans and even a supporting mentor in her rabbi.  What she doesn’t have is a baby. Even though she has tried various treatments to become pregnant, nothing has worked.  “We live in a culture, especially for women, where your worth is very much tied to fertility.  A woman who is not a mother in this society is harangued from every direction.  Even after you’ve had a child people keep asking when you’re going to have another, and if you have no children people wonder what’s wrong with you.”

Despite being happily married, who teaches inner-city kids at Albany High School, Aviva still has self-destructive tendencies.  “I think Sam is an incredible port in the storm for Aviva.  He’s a solid, decent, righteous, lovable and loving guy. …  He’s the backdrop to some of her excess in how much she likes to flirt, how she loves to push the boundaries, and how she tries to constantly live on the edge.”

Aviva loves Sam, and he loves her, but Aviva wonders why that isn’t enough. Albert says, “What is enough?  How many blessings do we get in our lives?  Why is it the things that elude is, like getting pregnant for Aviva, have such a way of  causing so much despair, and the joys in our life that have come our way, we often take for granted? She even has a wise elder in her life, the rabbi, a trusted mentor.  Aviva is a lucky lady in so many ways.”

“Human Blues” is Aviva’s personal exploration.  “She’s going through a hero’s journey to figure out what we all struggle with when we ask ourselves what we feel and why we feel that.  Many of us never explore our own desires.  We do what’s been expected, and we fall in line, but people like Aviva and Amy Winehouse want to live more genuine lives,” Albert said.

“They will have a constant struggle against a culture that will want to normalize them.”

Dove & Hudson book launch, signing

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 5

Where: Dove & Hudson Used Books, 296 Hudson Ave., Albany

Conversation with author Julia May Jones

When: 6 p.m., Wednesday, July 20

Where: Northshire Bookstore, 424 Broadway, Saratoga Springs


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