An ambitious, intelligent portrait of the emergence of a gifted painter, and a sly, convincing depiction of the exotic fringes of the New York art scene. Isaac Hooker (introduced in Eberstadt's Isaac and His Devils, 1991) is, as the novel begins, a hapless if brilliant young man adrift in Manhattan, having fled New Hampshire (and his loyal girlfriend) to make something of himself. Gradually, he discovers an almost obsessive interest in painting, using his (at first) crude, urgent works to come to grips with the painful realities of his past. Eberstadt is particularly deft in catching the way in which art can take over one's life, overriding all other responsibilities, and in tracing the manner in which the troubled, reflective Isaac begins to think his way into what art means to him. Isaac, living hand to mouth, manages to talk his way into a part-time job with the glittering Aurora Foundation, known for its generosity in sponsoring highly idiosyncratic artists. He also swiftly becomes entwined with the sponsors of the Foundation, Dolly and Alfred Gebler. Dolly, an heiress, ``didn't believe in nickle- and-diming; she thought art could change the world.'' She handed her artists ``scads of unfettered money; she bought them space and time.'' And while she has always carefully kept herself somewhat removed from her artists, a benevolent but distant Lady Bountiful, she finds herself falling in love with the rough, bemused Isaac. Alfred watches first with disbelief, and then with increasing anger, as Dolly and Isaac become lovers. Eberstadt's portraits of the anxious New York avant garde, of painters and performance artists and would-be street poets, of mercenary dealers and edgy critics, is sharp and refreshingly tough-minded. Primarily, though, the novel is a study of the coming-of-age of a visionary painter, and as such it is both original and deeply persuasive.
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