British art dealer Moynihan’s fiction debut aspires to satire but achieves only a caricature of the New York art scene.
It’s spring 1998, and expatriate Irish nurse Brigid Murphy wakes up in bed with Elaine Yoon-Jung Yi, a video artist who likes to seduce heterosexual women and surreptitiously tape the results as part of an ongoing project to record her life. Readers are then rapidly introduced to a throng of additional, paper-thin characters: Art Spindle, a successful 57th Street dealer; his “dogsbody,” Beth Freemantle, who soon leaves to open her own gallery; artist Jo Richardson, who creates “kinda dysfunctional objects”; 95-year-old Alfred Rhinegold, owner of the eponymous Mondrian painting Spindle lusts to sell; Rhinegold’s mysterious manservant, Robert Freign, whose past history occupies far more of the narrative than its relevance to the story warrants; Dewey Bozo, gay party-boy and Elaine’s confidant; Bob and Jean Maclestone, who seem to use art collecting as a way to score new lovers; and many others, none with personality traits any sharper than Beth’s habit of inserting the word “like” into every phrase. Over the next 12 months, everyone wanders about, having sex (judging by the amount of space it gets, girl on girl is the author’s favorite) and spouting platitudes about art, which may be the point but isn’t particularly funny. Neither are the increasingly lurid plot developments, including one gruesomely violent scene that belongs in another book. Events come to a head at the opening of Beth’s gallery, where Jo Richardson’s installation is overshadowed by Elaine’s scandalous video. Several faces get slapped, several people wind up in the hospital, and we care about none of it. “It’s a game,” Elaine drawls. “It’s about the art game and the art of the game.” Alas, it’s not a very amusing game.
Moynihan knows the right names to drop, from Basquiat to Anna Sui to Da Silvano; now all he needs to do is learn how to write a novel.