Sunday, October 12, 2014

Book seventeen: Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood.

That’s right, I’ve read another book about art and artists.  Oh and women. This time it was Cat’s Eye, a novel by Margaret Atwood.  Actually, I should say I listened to the audio book read by Kimberly Farr.

Cat’s Eye is the story of Elaine Risley, a Canadian Painter who late in her life has achieved enough success that she’s having a retrospective in a Toronto Gallery. But the majority of the book doesn’t concern itself with this moment in time.  Instead the book weaves back and forth to tell the story of Elaine’s life, from childhood, through college, and into maturity.

Central to the story is a girl Elaine meets in elementary school.  Cordelia is a snarky, mean girl who acts as ring leader of a trio of girls who taunt and tease Elaine. All the while, Elaine does her best to fit in.  Their relationship hangs on through high school although by then Elaine has largely left the friendship. However through college and beyond, Elaine can’t seem to quite shake off Cordelia’s cruelty.

The early part of this book which dealt primarily with Elaine’s childhood bored me.  Atwood’s writing is lovely but the story line fell flat.  It might be that although kids were occasionally mean to me as a child, this book represents a different kind of mean.  These girls, particularly Cordelia exhibit a meanness meant to infect the mind.  When Elaine finally starts to lead her own life, going to art school and taking a night drawing class, the book got more interesting.  But maybe that’s because art plays a greater role in the story. And I find art infinitely more interesting than memories of childhood relationships.

No matter how you feel about the story, you can’t fault the writing.  This is an expertly crafted novel that is written with great care and emotion.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Book sixteen: Every Day by David Levithan.

I’m a fan of David Levithan. His Y.A. novels Boy Meets Boy and Will Grayson Will Grayson are two of the most charming books I’ve ever read.  So when my book club suggested reading Every Day, I was all for it. (I listened to the audio book which was read by Alex McKenna whose young, androgynous voice was perfect for the gender-hopping narrator. In fact, with an ambiguous name like Alex, I had to go online to confirm that the reader is a woman.)

The central character in the book (Known as “A”) wakes up every day in a different body.  He or she has just twenty four hours to figure out the life and react appropriately.

“A” has learned that it’s best to keep things as low key as possible and to try and go undetected as an outsider. The hope is to do as little damage or create as little confusion as possible for the host person.  This strategy is working quite well until “A” wakes up as Justin.  Justin is somewhat indifferent when it comes to his girlfriend Rhiannon.  But “A” is smitten and feels he has a personal connection.  So as “A” wakes up in different bodies, those individuals go out of their way to catch a glimpse of or talk to Rhiannon.  Eventually “A” tells Rhiannon about the situation and the two embark on a strange relationship.

I liked the book as it began.  But it didn’t take long for it to get tedious.  I’m guessing the constant teenage angst would appeal to a teenage audience.  But I found it grating.  As the book wore on the pace seemed to get slower and slower. And then it came to an abrupt and sudden stop.

I give Mr. Levithan a pass on this simply because Will Grayson Will Grayson is one of the best teen books I’ve read. But I certainly wouldn't give this book the same recommendation.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Book fifteen: Spending by Mary Gordon.

I didn’t plan for this to happen.  But somehow my year of reading books about art and artists turned into my year of reading books about art, artists, and feminism. A surprising number of the books I’ve read have been about women and art.  That theme continues with Mary Gordon’s Spending. (I listened to the audio book version which was pleasantly read by Tamara Marston.)

This book asks an intriguing question. Why is it that the “muse” historically is a woman?  History is littered with young woman who frequently live at the artist’s beck and call, hang around naked modeling, and offer to fulfill the artist’s desires.  Why aren’t there any male muses?

There are several obvious answers to that question the most prominent being that women artists just haven’t been a thing for most of history. But it’s still an interesting question.  In Spending, Mary Gordon approaches the idea head on.  Monica Szabo is a reasonably successful painter and raises the muse question during a lecture she gives.  A man in the audience stands up and offers to be her muse.  For most of the book, the man is referred to only as “B.”  Turns out B is a wealthy stock broker and can make Monica’s life as an artist less difficult.  With more time to devote to her art and with her affair with B as inspiration, Monica creates a series of male nude paintings that are a hit with the critics and catapult her to art-word fame and fortune.

Later in the story, B loses much of his fortune and Monica becomes the financial foundation for their relationship, aided by my favorite character in the book, a wealthy older woman who commissions a painting and gives Monica a small fortune. While she was my favorite character, I’m not sure she helped make the book better.

This book isn’t bad. I liked its feminist themes. And the writing, particularly the writing about art is exceptional.  But something just didn’t quite work.  Everything seemed too easy.  When things went wrong there was something just around the corner to save the day.  And while that’s not inherently a bad thing, in this case it was somehow unbelievable; like a bad forgery.