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The Marriage Artist: A Novel Hardcover – October 26, 2010

3.8 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Art critic Daniel Lichtmann staked his career on an enigmatic Native American artist named Benjamin Wind, until Benjamin and Daniel’s wife, Aleksandra, a Russian Jew and intrepid photographer, fall to their deaths from the roof of Wind’s New York studio. Were they lovers? Did they make a suicide pact? Faced with this double jeopardy of grief and mystery, Daniel is impelled to search out the truth, a quest that unfolds in a double plot. Winer (The Color Midnight Made, 2002) follows Daniel on one track; on the other, he takes readers to Vienna circa 1928, where Josef, the son of assimilated Jews and a boy of prodigious artistic gifts, is put to work by his rascally grandfather painting illuminated ketubot, or marriage contracts. Cruel ironies accrue when Josef’s adoring friend Max arranges for the charismatic “marriage artist” to marry Hannah as part of a plan to escape the Nazi terror. As the two story lines converge, readers discern the central secret long before it’s revealed, and Winer’s prose flickers between ravishing and contrived. Yet structural flaws do not diminish the audacity and beauty of this elaborate psycho-political-sexual puzzle, with its hard truths, startling visions, and eerie insights into the mystical and memorializing powers of art, and that endless hunger we call love. --Donna Seaman


"Powerful . . . ambitious . . . audacious."
—Publishers Weekly (Starred review)

"A tour de force of provocative ideas . . . expressed through emotionally riveting characters."
Kirkus Reviews (Starred review)

"Andrew Winer is a formidable writer. He has erected an amazing Tower of Babel, a tower of history, love, marriage and art, Europe and America. In Winer's building, though, there is no confusion of languages—or only to the extent that it can fuel the masterful plot. This novel is a page-turner with a deeper meaning, a very rare amalgam indeed."
—Adam Zagajewski, author of Eternal Enemies and A Defense of Ardor

"In this intricate and far-ranging novel, Andrew Winer writes brilliantly about art and love, history, debts that can and can't be paid, fatherhood in all its guises, the importance of bearing witness, the fragile border between mortality and immortality, the speakable and the unspeakable. The Marriage Artist weaves together the lives of characters, past and present, with consummate skill, and the result is an utterly absorbing and profound novel."
—Margot Livesey, author of The House on Fortune Street

"A powerful intellect, fearless emotion, and gift for provocative metaphorical narrative, all drive this sweeping, unflaggingly intense novel. The Marriage Artist takes on big themes—love, death, faith, history—with a riveting mix of seriousness and enchantment."
—Francisco Goldman, author of The Divine Husband

"Winer creates complex characters by sketching compelling portraits. . . The result is a story that is engrossing and haunting." —abcnews.com
“Unforgettable . . . evocative . . . lyrical . . . The Marriage Artist gives us a reason to celebrate.” —Bookpage
“ [a] fearless examination of sexual power, love. . . hatred between fathers and sons, maternal instinct [and] grief. . . .” – The Rumpus 
“. . . a mystery, a romance and a ghost story, and the author is adept at weaving all of these narrative threads into a single compelling tale.” – The Jewish Journal
“. . . breath-bating . . . a high-minded fusion of dark anti-love story and ethnographic detective fiction.” – The Boston Globe
“An intense and complex examination of love. . . . a mystery that raises the question of how memory, identity and love are entangled.” – Star Tribune

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; First Edition edition (October 26, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805091785
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805091786
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,367,294 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By "switterbug" Betsey Van Horn TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 26, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Andrew Winer has written a potboiler that is also literary. Writing about such a serious subject as the Holocaust sometimes constricts a novelist into a more conventional form of storytelling/historical fiction. But as we have seen with such books as Frederick Reiken's Day for Night and Nicole Krauss's postmodern Great House, as well as Death as a narrator in Markus Zusak's The Book Thief, the only unwritten rules are to grip the reader in a credible story and to edify through words. Winer has done both, and he puts his unique stamp on it with his fluid, page-turning, thriller style blended with his out-of-the-box imagination and mellifluous prose. Like Plath did so craftily with The Bell Jar, Winer will reach a wider audience by his hewing of the elevated with the pedestrian. Saul Bellow meets Stephen King. I applaud his ambitious style, which he succeeded with on many levels.

"...the dead take with them not only what we love in them but also what they love in us..."

Two stories parallel and merge, reaching forward in one, backward in the other, fusing in a transmigration of redemption. One starts in 1928 Vienna, a time when the Jews, once so integral to the art and intellectual community, are being persecuted.
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Format: Hardcover
The narrative of Andrew Winer's The Marriage Artist is akin to two train tracks heading toward each other and meeting at a final destination. Imagine watching these trains from the sky, see them converge, but sit back and enjoy the view. Look at the landscape, watch the passing trees, and eavesdrop on fellow travelers' conversations and stories which only make sense once both trains have pulled into the station.

Track one is the story of art critic Daniel Lichtmann, whose wife Aleksandra plunged to her death alongside Benjamin Wind, one of Daniel's favorite artists. Whether his wife and the artist were lovers is unknown. What she was doing on the roof of his building, and whether the two jumped to their deaths by choice or force, also remains a mystery. Daniel searches for answers and receives unexpected information in the form of an elderly wheelchair-bound man who attends both funerals.

Track two starts in 1928 Vienna when young Josef Pick discovers his artistic talent and trains with his grandfather to paint Jewish marriage contracts called ketubah. This track follows young Josef through his teenage and early adult years, during the tumultuous start of World War II and the purging of Jewish citizens from Vienna, until it meets with Daniel Lichtmann's story in the present day.

At times both sweeping and engaging, here is an author who knows his tools and how to use them. Winer's prose ranges from lilting and poetic to stream-of-consciousness. Emotional and poignant, The Marriage Artist is a vast and tremendous dramatic novel of history and heartache. Of the bonds that bring people together and the devices that tear us apart.

Not knowing where the plot is taking us, the reader has no choice but to read onward, trusting in the author to reveal his secrets.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
To be clear, this books isn't the worst I've ever read. It just that it reads like it was written to please an academic audience. One cannot always divine authorial intent so that may not be a fair assessment, but like so many other works that come out of prestigious writing programs (UC Irvine in this case), The Marriage Artist reeks of overly stylistic language and complex yet somehow predictable characters.

Also, the setting, as far as Hitler's Germany is concerned, is so incredibly shopworn that it's hard to understand why a writer with any seriously original intentions would ask readers to revisit territory that's been so deeply and thoroughly mined by everyone from hacks to greats.And this book feels contrived, with adjectives stacked like arrangements on a florist's cask and a seemingly all too intimate relationship with a thesaurus.

Worst of all, the book simply isn't a good read. And it seems like Winer cared more about impressing other writers than with writing something that's actually compelling.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This novel, while full of imagery and sensation, is all about the inside of people's heads. I finished reading this book at noon yesterday and find it on my mind at every quiet moment. There are so many very good questions (and equally interesting answers proposed) in the book that the residual "cud" will keep me chewing for quite a while. The questions include but are by no means limited to...Why do Americans keep storage units full of stuff? How come some of the Jews and other endangered folk who could see the writing on the wall and who had the means to do so didn't leave Nazi territory while it was still possible? Is emotional pain how we can tell we are loving properly? Does love between humans exist? Does it require self-abnegation? Is it really possible to act outside of selfish motives to act for the good of another? Of what significance is survivors guilt when you tried your best to die with the rest of your loved ones? Is art any less art for being classifiable as decoration or pornography? Is clinical detachment and withdrawal an essential part of being an artist? Is there a kind of artist who's medium is relationships? Why would someone with deep abandonment issues choose to worship a God who embodies abandonment and seek a marriage utterly devoid of companionship? What is it rapists seek when they commit their violence? Why are there underpinnings of rage in so many sexual relationships? Is death the only antidote to our frustrated search for whole ness? Anyway, If you have some extra brain power that needs engaging and you like your dialogs rich in emotion, READ THIS! It really made me wish I still lived near my book club cronies so we could share.
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