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Picture This : A Novel Paperback


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1st Scribner paperback fiction ed edition (March 24, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684868199
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684868196
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.3 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #542,229 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In a radical departure, Heller has concocted a clever, strange piece of experimental historical fiction. As the novel begins, slovenly, debt-ridden Rembrandt van Rijn is painting his now-famous Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer. Suddenly, we are whisked from 17th century Holland to ancient Greece, where an exiled, weary Aristotle clairvoyantly watches Rembrandt doing his portrait. Not much has changed, the philosopher concludes as he gazes down the centuries at our dawning modern era of greed, wars and capitalism run amok. Written in a flat, reportorial style, omniscient in viewpoint, the narrative confusingly and annoyingly jumpcuts in time and spacebetween and within epochs. The chapters on Athens, where Plato pontificates while Socrates berates the belligerent youth Alcibiades, are occasionally wickedly funny. Best read in short takes, this startling parable about the degeneration of art into commodity and the survival of human values in a materialistic world demands total suspension of disbelief. For willing readers, it casts an undeniable spell. First serial to Playboy; BOMC featured alternate.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Less a novel than a discursive meditation on a theme, this work broods over the manifold implications of the Metropolitan Museum's possessing Rembrandt's Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer. Juxtaposing the Periclean Age with the Golden Era of the Dutch Empire, and always aware of the quasi-imperialism of recent American history, Heller focuses and refocuses in different historical settings on the ambiguous incompatibilities of art and contemplation with the equally human drives of material lust, vanity, and ambition. The collapsed and degraded Athenian Empire, collapsed and degraded European imperialism, and our own post-1945 history of cold, tepid, and hot wars are brought into pathetic consonance. Sardonic, polemical, occasionally preachy and turgid, but to my mind Heller's most interesting book since Catch-22 . Earl Rovit, City Coll., CUNY
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Joseph Heller was born in Brooklyn in 1923. In 1961, he published Catch-22, which became a bestseller and, in 1970, a film. He went on to write such novels as Good as Gold, God Knows, Picture This, Closing Time (the sequel to Catch-22), and Portrait of an Artist, as an Old Man. Heller died in December 1999.

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Customer Reviews

Then again Heller has no solutions or alternatives.
Phred
As well we have Heller's trade mark cynicism and humorous asides.
Paul Rooney
Bottom line: Joseph Heller has written much, much better.
lazza

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By David Beavers on September 8, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Would it be some kind of sacrilige to say that this is a better piece of writing than Catch-22 ? Catch-22 is a superior emotional and autobiographical work, for sure; it is his "best" because of how closely it pulls readers through the dark comedy of warfare, which Heller experienced firsthand. But Heller's particular brand of wit comes through in a different way here, and proves his mettle as a writer, and not just as someone who came back from WWII with a "story to tell." The soul of this book is a political one, but the generosity Heller shows his characters -- who just happen to be Rembrandt and Aristotle -- is wonderful. Catch-22 is immersed in the "present" in that wartime is all about surviving hour-by-hour; what's neat about Picture This is how it looks at democracy and capitalism as they have existed for centuries: Socrates was put to death for "corrupting the youth" long before the NSA turned the U.S. into a police state; likewise the Dutch found out what a mess capitalism was hundreds of years before Wall Street. The genius of this book is in that Heller never really explicitly points a finger at modern states, but just points at the trail of dead they've left over thousands of years. Heller pulls art and history through the lens of capitalism & corruption, and he's deadpan-funny while he does it. Also helping the cause: the last few lines of this book are my favorite ending to any novel, ever.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Stephen M. Kerwick on June 1, 2000
Format: Paperback
Joe Heller had a hell of a job matching Catch 22. The reviews of its ostensible sequel Closing Time (many of them unfairly negative) prove this. Several of his works in the 70's and early 80's tried to live up and, although decent novels, fell well short of the mark. Ultimately in 1988 he struck gold (no pun intended) again. Picture this is a tour de force of all of Heller's best dialogue writing, irony and subtle political commentary and does all of the things right that Catch 22 did, although at a somewhat lesser volume. It has always been a mystery to me why the book wasn't better received critically and financially, apart from the possible fact that it came close on the heels of Heller's frightening episode of Guillan Barre syndrome and his nonfiction work on that experience. Anyone who has enjoyed his best work and been slightly disapponted by his also-rans ought to pick this one up for a light but thoughtful and entirely pleasant read.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By La_Batailleur@Bigfoot.com on September 11, 1997
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Readers contemplating Heller writing Rembrandt painting Aristotle contemplating a bust of Homer should themselves be considered amongst Heller's most refined audience.

Having stripped away the superficial trappings of plot, Heller tells a marvelous tale. Having brushed aside continuity, Heller is able to put history in its inevitably tragic context, for which the only defense is unrelenting laughter.

Readers of Catch-22 will be pleased to find that the Master of noir comedy has since greatly improved his skills, leaving the now classic, more-than-just-an-anti-war-novel as a comparative table-scraps.

Read it twice, savioring the incomperably involuted prose. Then go back and read it again for the story itself.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 27, 1997
Format: Mass Market Paperback
From the first completely confusing page to the final full stop Joe Heller uses history from two entirly different era's with no connection whatsoever (except a particular painting) To show the failings of history itself. He highlights many different obsurdities and shows modern life for what it is; a fragile construction on foundations of sand.

An absolute must of a read.

Personal ranking of all the books I'v read 1

Duncan M Shields
duncans@thenet.co.u
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By L. Dunkelman on March 4, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Joseph Heller has been compared to Mark Twain and rightfully so. Like Twain, Heller has a sharp sense of humor and can easily point out the foibles of mankind. If you are looking for a modern novel with well developed characters and a plot- look elswhere. If you think you know anything at all about Rembrandt or life in the 17th century, then try this one on for size.
Heller's paints a picture of Rembrandt (and Aristotle) that makes them so human you can laugh out loud at them, and you will.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Andrew McCaffrey VINE VOICE on August 11, 2001
Format: Paperback
PICTURE THIS is an enormous and sprawling work. I do not mean large in the word-count (though it's no slouch in this category) but in the scope. The back cover summary promises a "jaunt through 2,500 years of Western civilization" and it certainly delivers that. Unfortunately the result is a mixture of good and bad. At its best, it can be spellbinding, but at its worst it comes across as a fairly boring history lesson.
The book is vaguely centered around a piece of artwork that a Sicilian nobleman named Don Antonio Ruffo paid five hundred guilders for Rembrandt to produce. The painting is that of the Greek philosopher Aristotle contemplating a bust of the Greek poet and storyteller Homer. Using this foundation as a springboard, Joseph Heller jumps back and forth in time giving different perceptions on a number of different concepts. Money, power and art are just a few of the topics that Heller touches on and for the most part, as the expression goes, the more things change the more they stay the same. There are some memorable insights into the role that war, commerce, etc. have played in society.
On the other hand, PICTURE THIS does tend to get weighed down underneath its grandiose pretensions. While much of the book discusses the relation that history has to the concepts it contains, there are far too many passages that are just dry rehashes of historical documents. This is most apparent in the sections concerning the Greek philosophers where, at worst, the book spends several pages just rephrasing the events and philosophies that Plato described in APOLOGY, CRITO and THE REPUBLIC. Although these sections can be interesting (probably even more so to any readers who aren't already familiar with them) they are not always related to the rest of the story.
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