Thursday, June 19, 2014

The wishing well of old artistic ladies

Book: The Fountain of St. James Court, or, Portrait of the Artist as an Old Woman
Author: Sena Jeter Naslund
Published: 2013 (Harper)
Pages: 431

What do an old lady who's just finished the first draft of her latest novel and the life of a famous lady painter in revolution Paris have in common?

Trick question, my friends, because this book thinks it answers it thoroughly when - yeah. No, it doesn't.

 Ostensibly, they're connected because the old lady's novel is about the lady painter, and she manages to contemplate about her once or twice during her random ramblings around the Kentucky apartment complex she now calls home. But really, the (excruciating) detail of life's aimless release right after a work of art has been completed makes far more overt and explicit allusions to Mrs. Dalloway and makes me leery about reading V. Wolf although based on glimpses of her prose that I've already managed to steal, she mines much deeper into the psyche of everyday and not just wispy contemplation of chairs, wine, Hallmark friendships, and past marriages. (I don't think. To the Lighthouse is on the pile, guys, so stay tuned.)

 The book alternates somewhat randomly between this and a based-on-true-life lady painter as she grows up and works hard at her art and gets into the highest social circles of French aristocracy only to watch them crumble around her. This bit started out much more interestingly, sketching (heh) pieces of her childhood in just enough detail to see her personality start to emerge and mold around her talent, and it's good up until her marriage to an art dealer who she doesn't really love but hey, it's the 18th century and he's got a bangin' collection and connections and space for her to paint. Sweet deal.

 She even enjoys the wedding night; he awakens her desires and they're both all worshipful of each other's forms and each weird cheese off each other's knives (NOT A GROSS METAPHOR, I promise) and it was kind of more like a romance novel than I can fully appreciate but whatever, good for them.

And then it just...stops. Like, we go back to the old lady and her nervousness about a new paramour possibly coming by, and when we get back to Painter Lady all of a sudden she's talking about her husband being a gambler and bum and there is NO mention of transition and there's NO going back to sexytimes, NO "I found out he's a worse person than I thought but I can't quit this man, y'all, I wish I could" and as far as I could tell, NO time in between.

 That marks the decline of anything interesting in this whole bundle. The old lady continues to wander around her court with the stupid fountain in it (serves NO purpose, by the way, except something to be mentioned) and the painter lady starts outlining how awesome her life gets. Yeah. What is it with French revolution people leaving out the most interesting parts in their lives? We get no more details, nothing more except skimmed over summaries of life, work, death, and upheaval escaped early.

 Ugh. I wanted to be able to say that if you put the painter lady parts together you'd get a good novel, but that's not even true, and there's never any thematic connection between the bits even though I know the author wanted that to happen SO HARD.

 Back to the library, crossed off the list. I've decided that reading lists make me happy because they order the overwhelming job of "what to read next??" and it's something I'll be able to complete but not for a really long time. So. Yes to reading list, no to this book.

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