Author(s): Kate ChristensenDownload
Winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction Oscar Feldman, the renowned figurative painter, has passed away. As his obituary notes, Oscar is survived by his wife, Abigail, their son, Ethan, and his sister, the well-known abstract painter Maxine Feldman. What the obituary does not note, however, is that Oscar is also survived by his longtime mistress, Teddy St. Cloud, and their daughters. As two biographers interview the women in an attempt to set the record straight, the open secret of his affair reaches a boiling point and a devastating skeleton threatens to come to light. From the acclaimed author of The Epicure’s Lament, a scintillating novel of secrets, love, and legacy in the New York art world.
Some Reviews: 483 in Goodreads.com
I’m a huge Kate Christensen fan, in part because of the slight black humor, attention to human interactions, delight in describing good food, and also because of her style. I’ve read many of her books, and have yet to be disappointed.
“The Great Man” describes the interactions and struggles to go on after Oscar Feldman’s death; Feldman is a philandering figurist, who is congenially married to the devoted and doting Abigail, and enamored with the independently-spirited Teddy, his mistress. Both are mothers to his children who have staunchly avoided one another over the years. But the emergence of two would-be biographers of Feldman’s life pushes everyone–Abigail, Teddy, his sister Maxine, his childhood best friend and other witnesses–together as they unravel and come to terms with selfishness, and uniqueness, character and figure of Oscar himself.
A well-written novel, Christensen explores the art world, growing old, and the timelessness of love.
A book of women when the title would suggest otherwise. All of the women have had some relationship with the “great man” who was an artist. From legal wife to mistress to sister to friends of his family – this book introduces the reader to women who find they have a lot to say when they finally meet to discuss what happens next after the “great man’s” death. To complicate the situation, two writers have signed contracts to tell the “great man’s” story. Both biographer’s have different perspectives on the artist, and all of the women have their own thoughts on divulging information to them. At times the book is very funny and at times full of pathos. Yet, the writing never goes too far. It felt honest and funny and crazy and touching and devious to name a few qualities that kept me reading. I found Oscar Feldman self-serving and demanding, but his personality seemed electric and habit forming for some. At the end, the reader decides what the title might really suggest.
This is such a great presentation of four women, interlinked by their relationship to a man, Oscar, who is present in the story only through memories (he is dead). The wife, second partner/mistress, sister (lesbian and also a painter), and best friend of mistress.
All women are over 70, and are presented from a variety of angles – about feelings, sexuality and decisions about their lives. They are all strong and their own people.
The context of an artistic world (Oscar was an artist) is also something that appealed to me – Oscar’s personality is very clear, and so are the others’ but their lives revolved in the world of art, where the norms of beauty and acceptability are different from the mainstream.
I absolutely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys women or a well-crafted story of people and the world they make for themselves.
I couldn’t put this book down. . .
The style of this novel is very unique and hooks you from the start. I couldn’t put it down. The four women who loved this (not-so) great man are so sensitively crafted by the author that you both, at once, admire them and question their devotion to such a hollow person as Oscar. The book also asks some important questions, such as what constitutes “great” art, who gets to decide, what role do women play in the art world, and how are we, as viewers, implicated in the social construction of the artistic genius.
Additionally, the inclusion of the two men writing separate biographies of the great man add tremendously to the story. The obituary and the two reviews at the end act as book ends to the story and add to its unique style. Bravo Ms. Christenson.
Though I am not thrilled by the premise of the lives of many, many women revolving around an acknowledgedly selfish man, I really enjoyed this book. It is well-written with some delightful phrases–my favorite being a description of Abigail’s father who “left everything equally divided among his three daughters, like a rational, nondemented Lear.” Lovely! The characters are interesting, though admittedly some of them are left a little flat (Lila could have used more dimension). It was also refreshing to read about older people who are neither benevolently full of wisdom nor howlingly clutching against death but just older versions of their younger selves without being fatuous caricatures. It’s a quick read.