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The Great Manby Kate Christensen
Five years after Oscar Feldman's death, two biographers descend on the people who knew him best: his sister, his wife, and his lover. But don't be fooled by the book's title. The Great Man finds expression (and no shortage of drama) in its women, whose lives, in some respects, get a whole lot more interesting once Oscar, the heralded painter, is gone. Ambition, devotion, sacrifice, mortality, lust, art, truth — for a story tackling so many big subjects, Christensen's novel remains a compulsive joy to the end.
Synopses & Reviews
From the acclaimed author of The Epicure's Lament, a novel of literary rivalry in which two competing biographers collide in their quest for the truth about a great artist.
Oscar Feldman, the Great Man, was a New York city painter of the heroic generation of the forties and fifties. But instead of the abstract canvases of the Pollocks and Rothkos, he stubbornly hewed to painting one subject — the female nude. When he died in 2001, he left behind a wife, Abigail, an autistic son, and a sister, Maxine, herself a notable abstract painter — all duly noted in the New York Times obituary.
What no one knows is that Oscar Feldman led an entirely separate life in Brooklyn with his longtime mistress, Teddy St. Cloud, and their twin daughters. As the incorrigibly bohemian Teddy puts it, He couldn't live without a woman around. It was like water to a plant for him. Now two rival biographers, book contracts in hand, are circling around Feldman's life story, and each of these three women — Abigail, Maxine, and Teddy — will have a chance to tell the truth as they experienced it.
The Great Man is a scintillating comedy of life among the avant-garde — of the untidy truths, needy egos, and jostlings for position behind the glossy facade of artistic greatness. Not a pretty picture — but a provocative and entertaining one that incarnates the take-no-prisoners satirical spirit of Dawn Powell and Mary McCarthy.
"'This penetratingly observed novel is less about the great man of its title than the women Oscar Feldman, fictional 20th-century New York figurative painter (and an infamous seducer of models as well as a neglectful father), leaned on and left behind: Abigail, his wife of more than four decades; Teddy, his mistress of nearly as many years; and Maxine, his sister, an abstract artist who has achieved her own lesser measure of fame. Five years after Feldman's death, as the women begin sketching their versions of him for a pair of admiring young biographers working on very different accounts of his life, long-buried resentments corrode their protectiveness, setting the stage for secrets to be spilled and bonds to be tested. Christensen (The Epicure's Lament) tells the story with striking compassion and grace, and her characters are fully alive and frankly sexual creatures. Distraction intrudes when real-world details are wrong (the A-train, for instance, doesn't run through the Bronx), and the novel's bookends — an obituary and a book review, both ostensibly from the New York Times — are less than convincing as artifacts. In all, however, this is an eloquent story posing questions to which there are no simple answers: what is love? what is family? what is art?' Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Kate Christensen's brilliant, big-hearted skewering of greatness, of men, of the Manhattan art scene, of love, reminded me that books can be witty, and heartbreaking, and intelligent, and keep you up too late reading. How rare it is that a writer is talented enough to deliver such varied treasures in one novel, but Christiansen manages it effortlessly." Heidi Julavits
"The prose in this book is stunning; the characters fascinating, endearing, and utterly real. Kate Christensen is, quite simply, one of the finest artists writing today." Cathi Hanauer
"With a plentiful cast of secondary character, including boldfaced modernist personae past and present, the novel provides no shortage of pop-intellectual entertainment… more compelling, however, is the profoundly feminist story of the three women who in various ways propped up Feldman's career over the course of a lifetime, as well as Christensen's earnest inquiries into the contemporary female experiences of aging, loss, and most of all, love." Elle
"After a famous painter's death, the septuagenarian women who love and survived him reexamine their lives, in a novel as much about aging as art.... Friendship and sexual love remain of vibrant importance for these tough old birds, unforgettable and far more engaging characters than predictable Oscar. A joyful romp from Christensen that allows aging women to come across as sexy." Kirkus Reviews
"Christensen's arch and gratifying novel...pairs the ridiculous with the sublime, and reminds us that nothing human is simply black or white." Booklist
"Christensen...excels at imagining the inner thoughts of this mixed trio of septuagenarians, especially regarding their sexuality." Library Journal
"Among Oscar's many women are his lover Teddy and his sister, Maxine — two of the most complex, intelligent, and appealing female figures in recent fiction, wonderfully cantakerous and refreshingly judgmental." Vince Passaro, O: The Oprah Magazine
About the Author
Kate Christensen is the author of the novels In the Drink, Jeremy Thrane, and The Epicure's Lament. Her essays and articles have appeared in various publications, including Salon, Mademoiselle, the Hartford Courant, Elle, and the bestselling anthology The Bitch in the House. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband.
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