September: The Great Man

From Publishers Weekly
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.)
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From The New Yorker
At the center of this snippy comedy of manners is a New York-based painter and philanderer, Oscar Feldman, whose oeuvre consists of boldly rendered female nudes. That Oscar has been dead for a few years barely matters to the constellation of elderly women in his orbit: his long-suffering wife, Abigail, who rarely leaves her Upper West Side apartment; Teddy, his soignée bohemian mistress, moldering in Greenpoint; his sister Maxine, an abstract painter who is equally preoccupied with female flesh, and considered by some a greater talent. When two feckless biographers descend, looking for the inside scoop, Oscar’s big secret, hanging in plain view, becomes a vehicle for both rapprochement and revelation. Christensen addresses topics like gender and race with overly broad strokes, but her picture of three women coping with the indignities and the pleasures of old age is satisfyingly detailed.
Copyright © 2007

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