Before retiring to bed one evening, an author looks out of her living room window and sees a line of people in her driveway. First in line is a young woman cradling a baby, behind her a fastidious man in his 40s, then a thin graying older woman, etc. These people are, she realizes, characters in her upcoming novels. She is awoken in the middle of the night by footsteps on the stairs leading to her bedroom. The door opens and the fastidious man from the driveway enters her room. He apologizes for intruding but feels compelled to ask her to write his story before the others. Eventually she agrees. His name will be Alvar Eide, he is 42, single, works for an art gallery and leads an orderly yet uneventful life. All of which suits Alvar perfectly until the author decides to introduce a young homeless female drug addict into his story. It all begins innocently enough when a young woman walks into the gallery on a brutal Norwegian winter day and Alvar offers her a cup of coffee to warm up. Soon she appears on his doorstep and becomes an integral yet potentially damaging aspect to his life. As the direction of his story shifts in an increasingly uncomfortable direction, Alvar “visits” the author and implores to alter the course of events.
For about three years people I respect have been telling me that I have got to read Christopher Moore, yet whenever I would read the synopsis of one of his books, I was left uninspired. The other day as I walked past the New Fiction display, I was caught by a dazzling blue cover with Christopher Moore's name on it and an image of Toulouse-Lautrec and and a mysterious woman. I snatched it up and read what it was about and I was hooked. I have barely put it down since.
It is a love story and a thriller that mixes a supernatural element with the story of the impressionist painters, Whistler, Toulouse-Lautrec, Renoir and others. I was particulary taken with the way that Moore can write rather irreverent, even bawdy humor and balance it with tender, honest emotion. The characters are intense and very real. If Moore isn't a painter himself, he must have done a lot of research to gain such insight into the relationship a painter has with paint and color.
Annie and Buster Fang are the children of notorious performance artists Caleb and Camille Fang. Caleb and Camille like to create small public performance art that can sometimes lead to arrests and hopefully, a mention in a local newspaper. At the beginning of the book every other chapter is a recounting of an artistic piece. Annie accusing her mother (who she pretends is a stranger) of stuffing her coat with jelly beans. As their mother then opens her coat and the jelly beans fall out, Buster enjoins all the kids to stuff their mouths with jelly beans causing a small melee in the shop. Meanwhile their father is outside of the shop filming with a hidden camera. Even if there is no mention of the event, the senior Fangs like to think about the stories all of the people at the shop will talk about with their families. Many times it is art for art's sake.
Both Annie and Buster can't wait to leave home as they grow older. They tire of the performances. Annie goes to Los Angeles to become an actor, and Buster writes stories and novels. But events in their lives force both of them to come back home to live. Buster gets into a fight and has to recuperate at their parents house. While Annie, becomes tabloid fodder and needs to disappear for a while since no one will hire her. Their parents are thrilled as the old performance art gang is back together and they can have the performance pieces of their lives.
Part of the problem for Annie and Buster is that any choice they make is perceived as performance art because of their parents. This dismays Annie because she realizes that everything she does will be perceived through this filter of art. All of her good and bad decisions will be art. One of the comments Buster makes near the end is that their parents prepared them for bad choices because all of the art that their parents were creating was people making bad choices. And therefore, their parents gave them a gift in not fearing bad choices. Annie is not so sure.
This novel really makes you think about what is art? Can a life be art? Are all lives performance pieces? Is art the act of creating the piece? Or is everyone who has to respond a part of it, and are they also artists? This novel has some very funny moments in it as Annie and Buster try to escape their upbringing. But as Buster points out, they were also given some very important skills for navigating through life. A very readable book.
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