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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? (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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This novel might more accurately be titled "The Women Who Supported the Good Painter," since it's more about the three women in Oscar Feldman's life than it is about the fictional artist himself. There's his wife, Abigail, more friend than lover, the dedicated and lonely mother of his profoundly autistic son. Teddy was his soul mate, his long-term mistress, and mother of his twin daughters. His sister Maxine is also a painter, less well known but perhaps more talented. All have a deep affection for Oscar, complicated by their understanding of how he needed and devoured women in both his art-figurative paintings of the female nude-and his life. Now, with two researchers penning posthumous biographies about the great man, the women remember who they were with Oscar and discover who they have become. Christensen (The Epicure's Lament) excels at imagining the inner thoughts of this mixed trio of septuagenarians, especially regarding their sexuality. Not as strong are the poorly developed biographers, who, despite being African American and Caucasian, are equally bland and undistinguishable. A solid title; for most fiction collections.-Christine Perkins, Burlington P.L., WA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
"In Christensen's cleverly structured fourth novel, she writes of New York's art world with high-voltage wit and a keen sense of the power of opposites. The great man is Oscar Feldman, a painter of voluptuous female nudes, and his most celebrated work, a diptych portraying a white woman and a black woman, serves as the novel's template. In the wake of his death, two biographers, one white and one black, stir up rancorous memories as they speak with the two very different loves of Oscar's life: his compliant wife, Abigail, mother of their autistic son, and his regal lover, Teddy, mother of their twin daughters. Oscar himself has a double, his sister, Maxine. She, too, loves women, but she is an abstract expressionist working primarily in black and white. As the biographers probe, Oscar's survivors overcome old resentments and forge new understandings through hilariously frank conversations, reawakened passions, and affirmations of truth and beauty. Christensen's arch and gratifying novel (think Margaret Drabble) pairs the ridiculous with the sublime, and reminds us that nothing human is simply black or white."--"Seaman, Donna" Copyright 2007 Booklist