Downtown novelist Nersesian (Dogrun, 2000, etc.) offers a witty tour through the lowest depths of high art in an account of a homeless Manhattan painter trying desperately to be discovered.
Strictly speaking, Orloff Tranchant is not homeless—he lives in his van, which is a good deal more spacious than many New York apartments, and he has sublet a friend’s studio to work in. But it’s a nomadic existence all the same: eating at gallery openings, dodging the meter maids, selling used books on the street for cash. Orloff used to live with his girlfriend June, but he moved out after discovering a portfolio of pornographic sketches she’d drawn of a man who looked nothing like him. Shortly after (whether out of spite or desperation is unclear), June got engaged to a wealthy art collector named Barclay Hammel. All this is par for the course in the New York art game, which Nersesian depicts as a fool’s paradise of vanity, self-obsession, greed, and madness. A good break comes Orloff’s way when Persephone Miller, owner of the Pomegranate Gallery, helps him win a commission to sculpt a tombstone (shaped like a takeout food box) for the grave of a kosher Chinese restaurateur. Plus, Orloff meets and starts going out with Lynn Nguyen, a Vietnamese artist who works near his studio. At the same time, though, Orloff is frustrated in his efforts to help Rita, a heroin addict and prostitute, in reclaiming her life. And, in the unkindest cut of all, Orloff’s van is towed away and impounded for $1,200 in unpaid parking tickets. Everyone knows artists have to suffer for their work—do they have to suffer for alternate-side-of-the-street rules as well?
A fast-paced portrait of the joys and venalities of la vie bohème: Nersesian’s story is sharp without being caustic.