A novel of metaphysical and aesthetic mystery.
Sheridan Ridler is something of a jerk—a womanizing, dope-smoking, self-centered artist, nurturing himself and his genius but odious when it comes to human relationships. When gallery owner and art agent Talbot Graves realizes that Ridler’s canvases, which he’s been selling for impressive profits to the likes of Zero Mostel, would be even more valuable were the supply limited, he decides to off the artist. But what starts out as a planned murder becomes a freakish accident when Graves’ car bumps Ridler into the Harlem River. Although Graves is certain Ridler is dead, the artist emerges bruised but reborn—in his temporary watery grave he’s seen “the Glory,” an evanescent image of transcendence that he now longs to paint. He disappears for 25 years, traveling the world (Mexico, Rome, Istanbul, Paris), and eventually hooks up with a seedy little circus run by the symbolically named Esperanza. During this time, Ridler seeks out works of other artists who have tried to convey the ineffable, and he paints furiously, trying to capture this same Mystery. When his frustration peaks, he anonymously mails paintings to Suzanna and to Graves, apologizing for his previous behavior and hoping that their forgiveness will give him another glimpse of the Glory. But when Graves discusses this new gift with Emil Lacuna, incongruously a cold-blooded killer and a collector of Ridlers, Emil knows that the value of his collection will diminish impressively if new canvases hit the market, so he murders Graves and stalks Ridler. Complicating the narrative is Gemma, Ridler’s daughter by Suzanna, though Ridler doesn’t know of her existence—she’s an art expert who authenticates the new Ridler canvases and then goes on a quest to find her father.
Dickson raises, but doesn’t answer, fascinating questions about personal transformation, religion and aesthetics.