For Barrie Summy's Roundup.
THE GREAT MAN
by Kate Christensen
The fictitious Oscar Feldman, five years dead, is the subject of biographies by two men in this graceful novel.
The artist's favorite subject has been female nudes. He also surrounded himself with women: a wife, a long-term mistress, an artist-sister, daughters--all of them mostly ignored to serve his muse. All of them seemingly in orbit around the Great Man. This great man is better at finding ways to use women than to celebrate them through his art.
But these women are the formidable founts of knowledge that his biographers will need to consult. His biographers are a naive young man (baby, in tow, in several scenes) and an older, more intellectual, African-American man. Each biographer brings particular strengths and weaknesses to the pursuit.
Our belief in Feldman as a great artist fades as our belief in the women as compelling, interesting figures grows. Feldman had stood between these women in life; after his death, they gradually come together.
If this sounds like a dry study of the artistic life, I've presented it incorrectly. It is a comedy of manners such as Jane Austen might have written in 2007. It is also funny, insightful, charming, and clever. I highly recommend it.
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