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A novel within a novel-hmm. Writer Kathryn "Ryn" Callaghan, age 70 and now thrice divorced, has given the manuscript of her latest work to friend Leslie to read. The novel depicts the life of French artist Elisabeth Vigee-Le Brun, who narrates her life from rags to riches as she becomes portraitist of Queen Marie Antoinette, then flees France because of the Revolution. (Vigee-Le Brun is also a character in Naslund's novel Abundance.) There's the making of pathos and much excitement here, but Elisabeth relates her story in a monotone that keeps her life from coming alive and would have made for rather tedious reading had it been book length. Meanwhile, Ryn spends her time ruminating over her past and her three failed marriages (and she's not the only character in The Fountain who's married abusive or otherwise unsuitable men). The only drama in Ryn's life is the return of her son's ex-lover Jerry, who is truly menacing. Fortunately for Ryn and son Humphrey, Jerry is married and living in Sweden with his hubby. VERDICT Ryn's fears for her son and her confrontation with Jerry as Humphrey is about to return home might make for a catchy short story. But as a full-length book, this doesn't really work. [See Prepub Alert, 3/4/13.]-Edward Cone, New York (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
In a lively and pointed variation on James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, popular and conceptually adventurous Naslund (Adam & Eve, 2010) portrays two women artists in a novel-within-a-novel. Successful writer Kathryn Callaghan lives in present-day Louisville, Kentucky, in a lovely, old neighborhood surrounding a fountain depicting Venus Rising from the Sea, a graceful embodiment of the novel's inquiry into the obstacles confronting women artists. Battered by her third divorce yet buoyed by her neighbors and friends, Kathryn completes a novel about the brilliant and resolute French painter Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun (1755-1842). After surviving childhood loss and a disastrous marriage to become a renowned portraitist, Elisabeth is forced into exile for her friendship with Marie Antoinette (the subject of Nasland's novel, Abundance, 2006). It's a challenge to match the powerfully rendered drama of Elisabeth's historic struggles with Kathryn's subtler suffering, and Naslund who has Kathryn admire Virginia Woolf while striving to write accessible fiction veers into contrivance and sentimentality. Still, this is an incisive and keenly pleasurable novel about women artists overcoming adversity to create joyful work that celebrates life's beauty and wonder.--Seaman, Donna Copyright 2010 Booklist