An exploration of the various backgrounds that influenced John Morrel's rise to fame, and his marriage. In a penetrating novel of artistic circles in New York of the late '20's, John Morrel is shown helped along his way as a painter by Noyhen, self-styled Indian Princess, by art critic Ann, by Lilli, frankly bitchy -- and then betraying their sense of possessiveness by marrying Mary White, from Iowa, whose love for him withstands all barbs. Noyhen and Lilli work first to ruin his reputation as a painter -- and to prove Mary impossible in her simplicity. Ann, out to protect Mary, and modernist Joshua determined to untangle all lies, try to divert the scabrous teamwork of John's devotees. And John, immersed in the championship of classic painting against modern styles, pays for the mounting tension in madness and suicide. Strange behaviours and their motivation -- with Mary's integrity a good foil for John's monomania. Dawn Powell touches in petticoat pettiness give the picture a certain sparkle.