- Hardcover: 256 pages
- Publisher: Random House (July 15, 2014)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1400068568
- ISBN-13: 978-1400068562
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 0.9 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 201 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,060,396 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Life Drawing: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, July 15, 2014
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From the Publisher
Gus, a painter, and Owen, a writer, have retreated from their cosmopolitan life in Philadelphia for a quiet life in the country in a beautiful old farmhouse. They crave the solitude in part because of Gus’ affair with the father of one of her students. But then a new neighbor, Alison, upsets the couple’s fragile peace. Gus, realizing that she has been lonely, confides to Alison not only the details of her affair but also her frustration with Owen’s recent bout of writer’s block. When Alison’s beautiful daughter, Nora, develops an infatuation with Owen, the couple’s marriage is threatened once again. In her debut novel, Black (If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This, 2010) skillfully conveys the way a long-term relationship can so easily shift between love and affection and a petty tallying of old hurts and disappointments. In addition, she delivers a hair-raising portrait of a poisonous female friendship. Full of emotional turmoil yet subtle in its effect, this elegant novel is sure to draw in both women’s-fiction and literary-fiction fans. --Joanne Wilkinson
“The simple facts—Gus’s relationship with Owen, her love affair with Bill—are, of course, not simple. [Robin] Black is a writer of great wisdom, and illuminates, without undue emphasis, the flickering complexity of individual histories. . . . The atmosphere of their love, of this house, is one of the most powerful aspects of Black’s unsettling and compelling novel. . . . [Her] taut, elegant prose is both effective and affecting. . . . Life Drawing is at once quiet and memorable. This makes it far from fashionable, and all the more to be applauded. Its author pursues real and vital questions. Astringent and wise, Black is not afraid to discomfit her readers. This novel, like life, is uneasy: what a relief.”—Claire Messud, The Guardian (UK)
“The page-turning suspense of Robin Black’s novel comes from her beautiful, honest portrait of a marriage, of a life. . . . A novel of consequence, and a stunning one.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“Gripping . . . The power of this story is how it illuminates, in utterly compelling detail, the complex give-and-take of a couple trying to save their marriage once betrayal has entered the picture.”—O: The Oprah Magazine
“Stunning . . . [Black] is that rare writer whose gift for prose is matched by her mastery of the other elements that make a great novel. . . . Black takes us well beneath the surface of her much-told midlife story, often-analyzed marital crisis, traditional setup for a classic denouement—making out of all of it a reading experience that is breathtaking, shiny and new. . . . Black’s psychological prowess and incisive observations lend an edge even to seemingly straightforward scenes. . . . Truly a brilliant, novel novel.”—Chicago Tribune
“Races to its resolution . . . Black’s writing is clear and direct [with] observations about the way people relate that resonate well after the book is closed.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Life Drawing is a tour de force, a taut, suspenseful story so beautifully written that it took my breath away.”—Christina Baker Kline, author of Orphan Train
“A thriller and a love story . . . a novel that will make you want to hug the person you love and never let go.”—NPR
“Explosive . . . impressive . . . a fine-brushed study of marriage’s light and shadow . . . There’s truth to be found in her portrait of long-lived love, its outlines painfully vulnerable to the perspectives of others.”—Vogue
“[A] nuanced debut.”—People
“An examination of the fragility of human relationships and desires, and one of the more powerfully written books so far this year.”—The Roanoke Times
“Suffused with a remarkably sustained emotional intensity . . . Every intimate contour of the couple’s relationship is mapped by Black with devastating accuracy. Full of insight into the fragility of marriage, this is a memorable read.”—The Sunday Times (London)
“A gorgeously written portrait of the intimate workings of a long-term relationship.”—Good Housekeeping (UK)
“Fine-tuned and exactly observed . . . With such well-rounded characters and a highwire level of suspense, the novel builds to a devastating resolution.”—The Daily Mail (UK)
“Black's command of the story carries us swiftly through ever more dangerous rapids. . . . She captures the various pains and pleasures of love, and how betrayal distorts and damages, with superb subtlety.”—BBC
“A brutal yet tender look at marriage and creative partnership that hums with thriller-like tension . . . It might be the nearest thing to a perfect novel that I have ever read.”—The Bookseller (UK)
“Black’s characters are three-dimensional, and her depiction of their relationships, particularly between the two women, is masterly. An astute inquiry into relationships and betrayal, this novel is nerve-wracking yet irresistibly readable.”—Publishers Weekly
“In her debut novel, Black skillfully conveys the way a long-term relationship can so easily shift between love and affection and a petty tallying of old hurts and disappointments. In addition, she delivers a hair-raising portrait of a poisonous female friendship. Full of emotional turmoil yet subtle in its effect, this elegant novel is sure to draw in both women’s-fiction and literary-fiction fans.”—Booklist
“Gus is known for her precision as an artist, and this quality is evident in her narration; her clear and efficient voice undergirds the novel's lack of melodrama. The focus on friendship and family will appeal to fans of women’s fiction, while the role creativity plays in the lives of the characters will attract readers of literary fiction.”—Library Journal
“A riveting story about the corrosive effects of betrayal, and a beautifully written meditation on the delicate balance of intimacy and isolation within a long marriage.”—Alice Sebold
“Life Drawing is a magnificent literary achievement with a combination of wisdom and velocity that distinguishes it from any other novel I have read. An intimate revelation of love’s unlikely endurance and of art’s role in reviving and redeeming the past, it is also a heart-stopping, jaw-dropping thriller. Black’s characters, rendered in her signature breathtaking prose, are complex and unfamiliar, yet the joys and sorrows of their days feel universal. I deeply loved Owen and Gus, the book’s married protagonists, and I was pulling for them from the first page to the last. Life Drawing will fill your head and heart with a world of real-life ghosts, of careening desire and creative inspiration, and of some inescapable truths about human fragility. Novels are only very rarely this insightful or this gripping, and Life Drawing, which is both, will leave you changed.”—Karen Russell
“Robin Black’s Life Drawing is a rare and exquisitely wrought portrait of two people equally devoted to their marriage and their art, a couple striving to make sense of a dilemma in which fidelity, honesty, kindness, and betrayal all make claims. The prose is admirably exacting, tender, wise, and elegant—and the story left this reader’s heart aching.”—David Wroblewski
“A wise, finely observed portrait of the workings of a marriage, as compelling as it is convincing. Life Drawing is intelligent, clear-eyed storytelling, exploring love and jealousy and the mistakes we make in their name.”—M. L. Stedman
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Here's the opening paragraph, which paints a picture that will stick with you, not only the length of the book, but long afterwards:
"In the days leading up to my husband Owen's death, he visited Alison's house every afternoon. I would watch him trudge over the small, snowy hill between our two properties, half the time away from me, half the time toward me. And I would wonder what he thought about as he went. Wonder too if Alison watched him from a window of her own, and whether the expression she saw on his face as he approached was very different from the one I saw as he came home."
In addition to the main storyline of the relationship between the narrator Gus and her husband Owen, I loved the painting project Gus undertakes. While renovating a bathroom, she discovers old WWI newspapers, which spark a desire to paint these lost boys, and this project is as captivating as the novel is, with the dead boys moving through the rooms as though they had all the time in the world, an eerie echo of Owen's movements, and for that matter, all our movements.
Often in novels about a marriage, there's nothing driving the novel forward. Not so here, where, with the retrospective point of view, we know from the first paragraph that Owen dies. In addition, the writing itself pushes the reader from page to page.
I may have to read Life Drawing again, right now, right this minute.
Robin Black's Life Drawing definitely fell into the latter category for me. This book was so exquisitely written, so compelling, I would have been happy if it were double its length. (This isn't a surprise, of course; Black's short story collection, If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This was among the best books I read in 2011.)
Owen and Augusta (Gus) have been together for a long time. He is a writer and she is an artist, and they've always lived a happy but slightly unorthodox, anti-establishment kind of life. But after their relationship nearly collapses following Gus' confession to a short-lived affair, they move away from their city life in Philadelphia to an isolated farmhouse in the country, where they try to concentrate on work and rebuilding the trust between them. They both struggle with their work at times, and although things seem to improve between them, there is always some underlying tension.
"There are often two conversations going on in a marriage. The one that you're having and the one you're not. Sometimes you don't even know when that second, silent one has begun."
Into their isolation comes Alison, who rents the vacant farmhouse next door. Although Gus is at first resentful of Alison's stopping by and encouraging the couple to socialize with her, she eventually comes to enjoy Alison's companionship, and both disclose the secrets that are plaguing them, and Alison also is a sympathetic ear to Gus' struggles with her father's increasing descent into Alzheimer's. But when Alison's young daughter, Nora, comes to visit, her presence, and what she brings along with her, threatens to shatter all of their relationships.
"I was right up close in a staring contest with the undeniable fact that for all the little things over which we have some control, for the most part we have none; and I was at a loss to know how to respond."
Life Drawing, well, draws you into its plot almost immediately. Gus, Owen, and Alison are complex characters. They're not always 100 percent likable but they're utterly fascinating, and although Black divulges one major plot twist early in the book, you still wonder how the story will get there. Sure, this type of story has been seen countless times before, but it's also different, and Black's skilled storytelling definitely sets it apart.
This is a book about trying to keep your heart and your head aligned, about how you can simultaneously love and dislike someone, and about how the things you fear can often come back to haunt you. I am sad to have finished this (despite flying through it) and can't stop thinking about these characters. As soon as Robin Black's next book comes out, I will undoubtedly leap on it. She's just that good.
One act of betrayal begats another. But even though the protagonist is self-critical she still in some ways allows herself too much.
The rules she has made for herself don't necessarily apply to others.
It is a story though and a truth.
Human frailty and fallibility I get it. But I am not sure how much we should pity it.
Somewhere in the book the author uses the word "consequences" and that is the overall message I have received here.
But I am not sure the author meant it to be the message.
I am angry at the protagonist. I don't really think she understood what she initially did. Guilt is not love.