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Archive for the ‘art’ Tag

Paint Escapes   Leave a comment

 

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The Painter by Peter Heller is a story of redemption. It’s also part thriller. The who-dunnit isn’t in question, but the underlying reasons and the chase(s) help make it a page turner.

Jim Stegner is a painter with a temper, a broken heart and a soft spot for children and animals. His passions are his art and fishing, both of which usually bring him a sense of peace. Set in southwestern Colorado and northern New Mexico, Heller’s writing renders vivid landscapes with careful, albeit, broad strokes. The images accurately evoke the beauty of the Rocky Mountains.

An encounter with a poacher leads Jim from one bad decision to another. At times it’s easy to think the best solution is for Jim’s mistakes to catch up with him. They come close, very close. The problem is there several other characters with whom the reader becomes invested, including – perhaps especially – Sophia, the young model with whom Jim befriends. Irmina, his long-time friend/occasional lover, is also likeable.

There’s more to Jim than his canvases and waders. His past is slowly revealed providing possible explanations for his rash behaviors. The pain he carries regarding his daughter is palpable. So is the disdain he has for law enforcement, art collectors and others. And, he’s a man capable of murder. Ironically, though his actions are crimes and can’t be condoned, they’re almost justified.

Despite Jim’s frustrating behavior, the moments of joy and a fair amount of intrigue make Heller’s novel an enjoyable read.

The Painter

Four Bookmarks
Vintage Contemporaries, 2014
363 pages
 

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Survival Modes   4 comments

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I’m usually not drawn to apocalyptic novels, but Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven is so much more than a foreboding tale about a small group of people who  survive a pandemic. It’s also about getting through the trials of what we might consider the normal elements of life: existence before the disaster.  She blends the backstory of the half dozen characters she masterfully introduces with their lives following the devastation; and it works!

The story follows the characters whose lives shared parallel paths with Arthur Leander, a famous actor, and which orbit around the fall of society. Unrelated to the flu that kills most of the world’s population, Arthur dies of a heart attack.  Nonetheless, he remains a substantial character as viewed by those who knew him: one of his ex-wives, his best friend, a young girl who watches him die and the man who tries to save him. Another ex-wife and Arthur’s son have important, albeit tangential, roles.  Each character is connected to Arthur, although they don’t all intersect with one another.

St. John Mandel creates a bleak, but not black and white picture, which is often the case in similarly-themed novels. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road comes to mind as a portrayal of a dismal post-catastrophe world. Sure, there is plenty of anarchy and death in Station Eleven, but somehow they don’t overshadow the power of friendship, love and art.

The author deftly illustrates that fear and loss exist before and after the collapse of civilization – as does hope.

http://www.emilymandel.com/bio.html

Station Eleven
Five Bookmarks
Alfred A. Knopf, 2014
352 pages

Family Faultlines   Leave a comment

The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson is exasperating and slightly intriguing. Camille and Caleb Fang are performance artists in the extreme. Their definition of art is to create irresponsible chaos amidst the realities of daily routines. The Fangs have children, Annie and Buster, who are used as props and/or unwilling co-conspirators. The kids, also known as A and B, have no interest in being part of their parents’ far-fetched ideas. Once old enough they leave home to pursue more traditional artistic endeavors: Annie is a film actress and Buster writes novels.

When the novel begins, however, both Annie and Buster are experiencing low points in their lives. Though resistant, they return to the family home. Wilson creates a palpable sense of anger and frustration on A and B’s part. This spills onto the reader. In a way Camille and Caleb are like the king who wears no clothes when they create their exaggerated scenarios, most of which are ill-conceived. It’s their children who wonder why no one else can see what they do.

Wilson combines a fair amount of humor, elements of a low-key mystery and the pathos associated with children who have been psychologically harmed and become adults who haven’t outgrown the affliction.

Unfortunately, the narrative doesn’t work. Too many questions arise making suspension of disbelief impossible. For example, if the Fangs are so successful as performance artists why aren’t they recognized? More importantly, why didn’t anyone call social services to keep Annie and Buster out of the fray?

The Family Fang

Three Bookmarks
Ecco, 2011
309 pages

Not Quite a Masterpiece   4 comments

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After talking to a friend who had just completed a marathon, I saw a similarity to reading Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. At times I wondered if I would ever finish. Occasionally I was completely engrossed and enjoyed the scenery, so to speak. Ultimately, I kept returning to the question of completion, could I do it? The answer is yes. However, unlike my runner friend who was euphoric after crossing the finish line, I was simply relieved: just glad to be done.

I know Tartt has received numerous accolades (including the Pulitzer Prize) for her 771-page novel about Theo Decker and the rare painting that, at the request of a dying man in a museum explosion, he takes and has overshadowing his adolescence and young adulthood. Yet, I had an extremely hard time allowing for my suspension of disbelief to fully be in the driver’s seat.

Theo’s mother is killed in that explosion and Theo, who is 13 years old at the time, walks out of the museum practically unnoticed, certainly not unscathed emotionally, but unnoticed. Don’t bother trying to forget that he had an irreplaceable piece of art in his backpack. Through a series of temporary living situations – some better than others, drug abuse and unrealized potential, Theo doesn’t undergo too much transformation through the years. Tartt offers an interesting premise, with Theo narrating, but the story gets bogged down with too many inattentive adults and too many far-fetched situations.

Mostly, I was tired after putting the book down for good.

The Goldfinch
Three-and-a-half Bookmarks
Little, Brown Co., 2013
771 pages

Artistic Personas   1 comment

Even if you aren’t necessarily a fan of Patti Smith or Robert Mapplethorpe, Smith’s memoir, Just Kids, is more than an autobiographical look at the relationship between the two artists. It also examines life and culture in the late 1960s and 1970s.

I’m just young enough that Smith was never on my radar when I was growing up. And, I’m just old enough to be aware of the controversy caused by a retrospective of Mapplethorpe’s work with the National Endowment for the Arts – long after his death. I might have skipped this book if not for a friend’s recommendation. I read it, and I’m glad.

Smith and Mapplethorpe met and lived together in New York City when they were  kids (twenty-year-olds) at a time when the underground music and art scenes were beginning to materialize. Their timing was perfect: she became part of the former and he part of the latter. Their paths crossed with the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Todd Rundgren, Sam Shepard, Andy Warhol and many others.

Just Kids reflects the impressive strength of friendship Smith and Mapplethorpe created with one another. This is a love story, even though each went on to have different partners; it’s also Smith’s homage to her late friend and the era in which they emerged. Her voice is honest and unrestrained. It’s easy to imagine the romance of their early lives as they lived hand-to-mouth, meeting other up-and-coming artists all while discovering their own artistic personas.

Just Kids
Three-and-a-half Bookmarks
HarperCollins, 2010
283 pages

Posted August 26, 2012 by bluepagespecial in Books, Reviews

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