A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
I don’t know if Arthur Nersesian is a painter or can just channel one, but this book is the most perfect representation of an artist’s inner dialogue that I have ever read. Not just dreams and inspirations, but the anxieties, reactions and yearnings that provide a mental soundtrack to the creative process. He knows not just what it’s like to get caught up in the frenzy of painting a feeling, but the point where one wonders if the painting or even the idea is working, if it has validity. He describes how artists are continually sketching or planning pictures, almost as a stream of consciousness response to things. And there is the voicing of the secret fears: what if I’m not good enough; or if I am, what if no one else finds out; what if I never sell another picture; what if my best work is behind me? There is acknowledgment of the desperation of trying to get exhibits anywhere, anywhere at all.
The novel’s first person narration is by Or, an artist who is just getting by, but often must sell used books as a street vendor to make ends meet. As the book begins, he is living with June, another artist, but their relationship is crumbling. He soon becomes involved with his “dirty-winged angel” Rita, a heroin addict who quotes Baudelaire, whom he becomes obsessed with rescuing. But Or is not a hero, he uses people and can’t be bothered with their problems, even if they are friends.
The blurb touts his commission for a gravestone resembling a Chinese takeout carton, but that’s just a side note, though it provides some slight suspense in seeing whether he meets the deadline. The novel paints the gritty streets of New York City and is sarcastic from the first page, which lends humor and intelligence to it. The descriptions are terrific; an “unchecked gang of pigeons” on the windowsill, a gallery patron looks like “a big yellow dahlia and smelled of roses” and an angry woman resembles a “killer koala bear”.
But the book is not without flaws. There is a bit of redundancy, the ease of posing junkies is explained twice, in much the same words.A subway accident is referred to repeatedly, but not explained until nearly halfway through the story. June, the ex-girlfriend, is engaged to someone else in less that a week after the breakup with the narrator, though she supposedly wasn’t sleeping with them. In fact, June is described mainly as a sexual object, whether as a girlfriend, a painting subject or with jealousy. A brief description of her is at the beginning of the book, but it’s not enough to make her a real character. There are bar denizens described more fully.
However, those are quibbles in an otherwise excellent book. Don’t let the specialized subject matter deprive you of a complex story examining the many shades of creativity, love and inspiration.
Marion Boyars 2005 284 pp. ISBN-10 0714531111