The complex relationship among three women and the film world drives this tale of technology and its discontents.
Much like Spiotta's previous novel, Stone Arabia (2011), this book is anchored by a fringe artist: Meadow built her career on experimental, Errol Morris–esque documentaries on tough subjects like the Kent State shootings and the Argentine Dirty War. That work brought her controversy but also acclaim and the freedom to write her own ticket creatively. So why, as the story opens, is she spinning a tale on a film blog about how she spent a year after high school as a consort to an aging Orson Welles? The answer isn’t plain or immediate, but Spiotta, master of austere indirection, introduces a pair of additional characters who hint at an answer. One is Jelly, a woman who for years insinuated herself into the lives of Hollywood producer types, cold-calling them with no ambition beyond building a friendship over the phone. (She calls it a " 'pure' call experience.") The other is Meadow’s childhood friend Carrie, who for years gamely indulged Meadow’s avant-garde film geekery before pursuing a career creating more mainstream, crowd-pleasing fare. Which of them has followed the most authentic artistic path, and how much does her chosen media facilitate or stand in her way? In Meadow, Spiotta has imagined an emotionally robust character who struggles with these questions at turns with humor (as when she films a boyfriend getting drunk for a Warhol-esque essay film), empathy (as when Jelly becomes her subject), or, later, tragic pathos when she discovers the crushing extreme of what her dispassionate film style can uncover. Early on, she feels “her camera was a magic machine that made people reveal themselves whether they liked it or not.” There’s some darkness to that magic, Spiotta argues, but she also finds something miraculous in how technology can reveal us to ourselves. It’s as true of this novel as of Meadow’s oeuvre.
A superb, spiky exploration of artistic motivation.