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Book Title

Bitter Water Opera

A Novel
Author 1
Nicolette Polek
In 1967, the dancer Marta Becket and her husband were traveling through Death Valley Junction when they came across an abandoned theater. Marta decided it was hers. She painted her ideal audience on its walls and danced her own dances until her death five decades later. 
In the present day, Gia has ended a relationship and taken a leave from her job in film studies at a university. She is sleeping fifteen hours a night and ignoring calls from her mother. In a library archive, she comes across a photo of Marta Becket and decides to write her a letter. Soon Marta magically appears in her home.
Gia hopes Marta Becket will guide her out of her despair. But is Marta—the example of her single-minded, solitary life—enough? Through precise, vivid vignettes, Bitter Water Opera follows Gia as she resists the urge to escape into herself and struggles to form a lasting connection to the world. Her search has her reckoning with a set of terrifying charcoal drawings on her garage walls, a corpse in the middle of a pond, a crooked pear sapling, and other mysterious entities before bringing her to Marta’s theater, the Amargosa Opera House. There in the desert, Gia finds one answer.
In this brief, astonishing novel, Nicolette Polek describes an individual awakening to faith while exploring our deepest existential questions. How do we look beyond ourselves? Where do words go? What is art for?

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An electrifying debut novel about art, solitude, family, and faith in a world without it

About the Author

Nicolette  Polek
Credit: Photographer Credit / Jordan Castro
Nicolette Polek is the author of Imaginary Museums (Soft Skull Press, 2020). She is a recipient of a Rona Jaffe Writers’ Award, and her work has appeared in the Paris Review Daily, BOMB, New York Tyrant, The Atlantic, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA in Fiction from the University of Maryland, and a masters from Yale Divinity School. She is from Northeast Ohio.
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Upcoming Events

Nicolette Polek reading and in conversation with Leopoldine Core. Zoe Dubno, Walt John Pearce, and Cynthia Talmadge about BITTER WATER OPERA at EARTH

EARTH in New York, NYview map
This event is free and open to the public.

Nicolette Polek reading and in conversation with Maud Casey about BITTER WATER OPERA

Politics & Prose in Washington, DCview map
This event is free and open to the public. Click here for more information. Copies of Bitter Water Opera are available for purchase from Politics & Prose.

Nicolette Polek reading from BITTER WATER OPERA at Skylight Books in conversation with Brian Evenson

Skylight Books in Los Angeles, CAview map


  • “Polek elegantly fashions an ode to small and privately felt moments of beauty, and to art’s capacity to reach through time.”The New Yorker
  • “Breathtaking sensitivity. . . . A delightfully peculiar meditation on imagination—as maladaptive crutch, creative tool, and steppingstone to peace.”Kirkus Reviews

  • “Enchanting. . . . Polek writes with an enjoyably strange spareness. . . . Readers will be eager to see where [she] goes next.”—Publishers Weekly
  • “An enthralling, almost spiritual account, Bitter Water Opera speaks to the desire for self-creation through destruction. Nicolette Polek invites us to crack open a window that exits to the impossible . . . [and] to grapple with the fleetingness and eternity of existence.”—Rosemary Ho, Columbia Journal of Literary Criticism
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