From Publishers Weekly
The psychologically suspenseful story of Jack Rathbone, a "latter-day Gauguin" who flees his native England to pursue a career as a painter as well as a volatile relationship with artist Vera Savage, is narrated by his sister, Gin, whose obvious devotion skews her perspective. McGrath's sixth novel unfolds in a series of flashbacks, from Jack's childhood in England to Greenwich Village in the 1950s and, eventually, to the Honduran town of Port Mungo, where Jack develops a style he calls "tropicalism" or, more sinisterly, "malarial." The birth of daughter Peg threatens the marriage, and her mysterious death, at 16, dooms it; Jack moves in with his sister in New York. Ostensibly, the search for the truth behind Peg's death propels the narrative, but the mix of flashbacks and present action is confusing, and Gin's role feels trumped up. The book becomes even more baroque when Jack's second daughter, raised in England, moves to New York and agrees to let her father paint her, in the nude. It's a provocative conceit, but the whole is less than the sum of the parts. Despite McGrath's intelligent, lyrical prose, the story lacks the urgency of his earlier work.
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McGrath's latest foray into macabre psychology examines one obsessive relationship through the lens of another. The novel is narrated by Gin Rathbone, who has lived her life in thrall to her younger brother, Jack, a famous painter now ailing and in her care. She tells the story of their eccentric, motherless childhood in England, a period that ends when Jack falls for a magnetic, promiscuous older artist named Vera Savage. Jack settles with Vera first in New York, then in the ramshackle Central American river town of the title. Gin's account of their extravagantly tempestuous life is full of adulation of him and hatred of Vera, whom she blames for his misfortunes. However, a series of shocking dénouements show us the extent of Gin's delusions about her brother and, in McGrath's virtuosic handling, make for a compelling piece of family Gothic.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker
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