Thursday, May 13, 2010
My sister got the full family allotment of the artistic gene. I can't even draw a straight line. Still, I appreciate art, and when in the midst of an inspiring personality or novel, I dream that one day I will discover my inner Picasso. (I have this same fantasy about writing as well). This is why I accepted A Painter's Life from the author months ago. I'm expanding my horizons!
I started reading this unique novel at 4am during the 24-hour read-a-thon. This probably was not the best strategy, because although the book is relatively short (143 pages), it was a bit too clever and quippy for my fogged mind. It is best read with a clear mind. So I picked it up again a couple of days later.
The structure is curious. The painter in question is Christopher Freeze, a fairly accomplished artist. At the beginning of each chapter, we are spoon fed a small piece of Freeze's biography. How he met his wife, his various mental breakdowns, his successes and failures.
Then we transition into excerpts from Freeze's diary, which is a riot. He talks about the minutiae of his life, his friends' lives, his marriage, and his struggle with his craft. Here are some examples:
I get all my best ideas in the shower, which is one of the reasons, I take so many every day (four or five at least). It means heavy hot-water bills and dry, itchy skin, but you do what you have to for a picture. It always comes first.
I am thankful for many things, but right up there near the top of the list is not knowing anyone who would think of dropping by without calling first.
I'm content to be an easel painter. Safadi once told me that if my pictures were bigger my reputation would be too. How much of one's work should be done in service to a reputation? I know it's naive to think as little as possible, but there you go.
At the end of every chapter, there are snippets of various reviews of Freeze's work, as well as some interviews with him.
I was perplexed that between these three components of each chapter, there was complete disconnect in who Freeze really was. The biography made Freeze sound like he was mental, with some serious issues in his personal life. The pieces of his diary made him seem very real and down-to-earth, with a killer sense of humor. The reviews at the end of each chapter portrayed Freeze as a brilliant, artistic genius. Perhaps this is the point of the author...we are, as humans, very multi-dimensional. What we see depends on which angle we are observing.
There is really no plot here. It begins and ends mid-stream, mid-life, mid-story. This is a snapshot of a life, delivered at a gentle, slow pace. It is the life of someone who is trying to create beauty. He was so like the guy who lives two doors down, he fueled the fantasy of mine that I too, could create something thought-provoking on a canvas. Now, I know this isn't going to happen (at least not until the kids move out and I get my little white dog), but it's pretty cool when you are allowed and inspired to dream.
So whether you have artistic talent in the real world or in your own mind, and you are tolerant of meandering, yet clever, musings, perhaps this might be something you would enjoy.
I would like to thank Kenneth Dixon for sending me his book for review, and a heart-felt apology for it taking so darned long for me to read! Kenneth also just informed me that this book was just selected as a finalist for the 2010 Eric Hoffer Fiction Award, which honors short prose and independent books. Way to go Kenneth!
3 out of 5 stars