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LGBTQ Recs Month

Celebrate the queerest month of the year...


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Book: The Art Lover
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eccentricweft wrote in lgbtq_recs
Bonus review! :)

The Art Lover, by Carole Maso, is about the experience of loss.

Usually a description like that continues on to say, "...loss, and finding a way to go on" but I'm not sure that would be true in this case. The Art Lover is mostly about being in the middle of loss: grief, emptiness, confusion, sadness.

Why would anyone want to read this? I guess because everyone has experienced loss and sorrow, and because Maso puts words to those feelings more perfectly and precisely than anything else I've ever read. It offers catharsis, in a way.

Like the film in my last post, The Art Lover breaks the 'fourth wall' between the reader and the story. The narrative has three levels. The main story is about Caroline, a young writer whose first novel was an enormous critical success. Now, she's enduring the embarrassment of being unable to complete a second book.

Caroline is temporarily living in New York, winding up the estate of her father Max, a renowned art historian who has just died. Sorting through Max's books and papers also forces Caroline to re-live the memory of her mother's suicide. She's an only child, so she doesn't have anyone who really shares these losses. And, while in New York, she reconnects with a dear friend, a gay man named Stephen who's just been diagnosed with AIDS. (Caroline is lesbian, too, as is Carole Maso, the author.)

Interspersed with Caroline's story are chapters from the novel she's trying to finish, about a family going through a divorce. And then, at the end of the book is a startling break with the conventions of fiction: a chapter told by the author, Carole Maso, about her own experience of losing a close friend to AIDS.

In the midst of all these losses -- past, present, future -- Caroline watches, and waits, and tries to gather small bits of meaning.

The form of the narrative adds to the beauty and strangeness of this work. There are illustrations throughout, all without captions: paintings reproduced in Max's art books, scraps of paper found on the street, Keith Haring-like sketches about Stephen's hospitalizations. Caroline's grief isolates her from other people, but she has lengthy conversations with Max, with Freud, with Jesus and Mary -- an almost playful surrealism that adds to the sense of being set apart, in grief, from the course of everyday life.

The grief embodied in The Art Lover makes it a difficult book to read, but it has stayed with me for 15 years now.
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Depressing though it may be, this sounds right up my street. Thanks for the rec - I've never heard of the author.

(Deleted comment)
Sounds like this made an impression--I'll have to look for it. Thanks! M.

The Art Lover was the first book of Maso's I read. I saw a tiny review for it in a catalog of remaindered books and knew I had to have it. She has become my favorite writer.

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