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THE ART FAIR by David Lipsky

THE ART FAIR

By David Lipsky

Pub Date: May 6th, 1996
ISBN: 0-385-42610-0
Publisher: Doubleday

 Self-described Gen-X writer Lipsky (a story collection, Three Thousand Dollars, 1989, and the memoir Late Bloomers, 1994) helps define a genre pioneered by Harold Brodkey and perfected by contemporaries David Leavitt and Michael Chabon--the tale of the disappointed Jewish prince: an upper-middle-class whiner who feels cheated by life's difficulties and continues to exert a puerile omnipotence over all those around him. Lipsky's Oedipal tale of the contemporary art world, set in the 1970s and '80s, begins in familial dysfunction and plays itself out in obsession and creepiness. Promoted as a roman Ö clef, most readers will fail to see the real-life parallels without a scorecard, but that's typical of Lipsky's inflated sense of the entire scene. Richard Freeley, the protective, slightly screwed-up child of a bitter divorce, decides to leave his father and evil shiksa stepmother in California to join his mother, a would-be painter, in Manhattan, where she struggles in a one-bedroom apartment. Nostalgic for ``the boy who'd been enjoying a first- class life,'' Richard suffers with each rejection or snub his mother endures at gallery openings or social events. Dishing on all the petty, competitive, art-world denizens, little Richard eventually worms his way into Brown, but can't give up his role as his mother's manager/protector/escort. Of his first romance, he muses: ``She loved the art world in me. . . . I loved the Westport in her.'' But when he must choose between this ``rich and pretty'' girl and his mother (no easy thing, in his mind), he abandons the WASP goddess to escort his mother through the major event of the title, an art fair in which he displays no little condescension to the unknown artists. The only thing missing from this weird account of art world shenanigans is any sense of the art itself--a pretty significant gap, to be sure.