Tuesday, July 8, 2014
Life Drawing (Robin Black)
Ah, so these are the times we live in. A post-Gone Girl era where everyone wants to read more books about relationships that are filled with secrets or bad feelings, a renaissance of books about people being people. I have gotten sucked into it as much as any other person, I'll admit it, because I love soapy drama if it's done right. Alas, it seems as though that's harder to come by than one might think, given the proliferation of books in this vein.
Life Drawing is about a married couple, Augusta and Owen. Some years ago, Augusta had an affair with a man named Bill, and Owen, though devastated, worked through the problem and the couple stayed together. They live on a fairly isolated farm. Gus, as she calls herself, is a painter, and Owen is a writer, and the two of them enjoy their lives of solitude. Suddenly, however, they have a neighbor, Alison, a woman who comes with her own familial baggage, including a daughter Nora who occasionally visits and never fails to keep things interesting.
The novel really heats up in its last third, and for that third, it's stunning. Seriously. It's painful and precise and perfect, and I am giving you absolutely no details about what happens because that would destroy it. Black carefully plots this part, and it feels so high-stakes and surprising and sharp--in fact, the last third is the part of Life Drawing that reminded me most of Gone Girl, so that probably explains why I liked it so much.
But what about first two-thirds? It's not dreadful--clearly, since I wouldn't have finished the book if I was bored with it--but it's...frustrating. Black is clearly a good writer, because the opening of the book sketches her characters so exactly and so quickly. It's almost startling how closely I thought I was to these characters, like I was an invisible third person that had lived with them for years.
Unfortunately, after introducing them once, the novel stalls out; we have to learn and then re-learn all the details of Owen and Gus's past and personalities, which I didn't enjoy because I felt like I knew them so well already. The book is also slowed down by Gus's frequent philosophizing, which half the time was excellent and the other half not fun.
So I suppose what I'm trying to say, then, is that the books feels like it only really gets started about 67% in. I would have loved to pick up the book for the final third and followed it after the point in which the book chooses it end--certainly it would have been a different novel. Of course, all of this more reflective of my own tastes in a book: I am more for the intrigue and the bad choices than I am for the regret and the thoughtful dwelling about it later.
My final statement: Life Drawing is a good book. If you want pensive thoughts about cheating and moving on, you're definitely in luck. But if you're looking for a drama that's a little juicier, you'll get it here, too, even if it's not instant gratification.
My rating: 3.5/5
Life Drawing on Goodreads
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