From Publishers Weekly
The life of Jackson Pollock's widow, Lee Krasner, provides the raw material for this strong, assured debut novel by journalist Toynton, who interviewed Krasner in 1980. Belle Prokoff is the fiery, arthritic octogenarian widow of the great Abstract Expressionist Clay Madden, who, like Pollock, nose-dived into alcoholism by his mid-40s and died in 1955 in a car accident with his young mistress. Decades after Madden's death, BelleAperpetually besieged by art fans, flatterers and critics seeking relics of her dead husbandAjealously guards his memory, his paintings and the truth about her own life as a painter and feminist who ceded to the needs (or genius) of a demanding alcoholic. Now unable to care for herself, Belle takes on a conscientious young assistant, Lizzie, whose older boyfriend, Paul, is an Australian painter on the rise and keen for information about his hero, Madden. Belle is also pursued by Mark Dudley, a pesky English art critic who will do anything for exclusive biographical details for the book he's writing on Madden. Moving from Belle's sleek New York apartment to her longtime residence and Madden's former studio on Long Island, Toynton delves effectively beyond Belle's stubborn wariness and into the vulnerable depths of her psyche, exploring her tough early years as a female artist jockeying for a place in the male-dominated scene of the New York School. Although Belle won't share her memories with opportunists like Dudley because she can't control what he will write, she relays her early "heroic sacrifice" to a sympathetic listener like Lizzie. Some of the plotting is heavy-handed: both Lizzie and Belle's maid, Nina, are struggling to maintain self-respect with dominating men, a perfect device for Belle to administer her hard-won advice. Toynton's prose is crisp, however, her dialogue tightly crafted, her period detail pervasive and her insight into character impressive. The novel succeeds on her memorable portrait of Belle Prokoff as an invincible survivor and her fair if cynical depiction of the New York art scene.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Novelists love to write about painters enthralled by the creative process, but in her sleekly composed debut novel, Toynton focuses on the suffering of women who suppress their own creative needs to serve what they believe is their men's greater genius. Toynton's model is the marriage between modern art's favorite self-destructive rebel, Jackson Pollock, rendered as Clay Madden, and the valiant and feisty painter Lee Krasner, reincarnated as Belle Prokoff. Elderly and ill but very tough, Belle views the fanatic mythologizing of her late husband, and her own concomitant fame, with seasoned cynicism. She doesn't hesitate to threaten an unscrupulous biographer, and, when she realizes she needs live-in help, chooses graduate student Lizzie in the hope of helping her break the spell cast by her self-centered artist lover. As this highly concentrated tale develops, Toynton, who excels at generating quiet suspense and succinctly articulating complex viewpoints, astutely ponders the differences between the sexes, the value of friendship over romance, the greed and pretensions of the art world, and the paradox of old age, when wisdom is muffled by infirmity. Donna Seaman
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