A passionate meditation on art wrapped in a hilarious sendup of artistic pretensions.

THE FOUNTAIN

A magic elixir that confers stupendous creative powers on talentless people sets the art world on its ear in this satirical novel.

When Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art sets up a “BE AN ARTIST” stunt exhibition that lets ordinary museumgoers try their hands at art, what emerges are the two greatest works of the age: Ragnarök and Roll, a Play-Doh sculpture of a bomb made by a foul-mouthed 10-year-old named Timmy O’Donnell, and Migration, a paper bird mobile by 73-year-old tyro Tabitha Masterson. Art students start worshipping Masterson as the goddess Bitha. Mediocre art critic Jasper Duckworth figures he can make his reputation by championing the two prodigies, but soon a disappointing truth emerges: Their bolt-from-the-blue artistic capabilities are the result of imbibing water from the MCA’s third-floor drinking fountain. The fountain’s potion grants everyone who swallows it the capacity to produce just one magnificent piece—and then kills the artist. The implications roil the denizens of Chicago’s art scene. Struggling sculptor Jawbone Walker drinks the water and makes an arty chair that priapically invigorates an older man who sits in it; Ross Robards, a legless Vietnam veteran and mass-market painter, abhors the fountain’s potential to make anyone an effortlessly great artist, especially because it competes with his own promise to teach anyone how to be a great artist through his instructional TV show. Sculptor Bob Bellio rejects the water but then has his sublime pieces dismissed as products of the fountain; schoolteacher-turned–art-groupie Emma—she specializes in plaster casts of genitalia—sees her libido intensify after she sips the water; and Duckworth schemes to take advantage of the water’s power without consuming it himself.

Hay’s yarn is a cynical, bawdy spoof of an art establishment whose cult of idealism and authenticity barely camouflages a crass hunger for fame and fortune. (“What have you done, Timmy? Duckworth thinks. You’ve ruined this masterpiece and turned it into the media’s culpability in war, genocide, and homelessness....But then a clearer notion: I’ve got an exclusive.”) Yet the raucous novel also takes the artistic life and creative process seriously. (“Once, maybe twice,” Bob “consciously uses a technique he learned from somewhere; the rest of the time it is pure instinct. Pure flow. Pure energy….The earth is a scratched stained wooden table. The sky behind him, a place where the sparks of tiny pieces of metal from the grinding wheel shoot up like tiny rockets.”) The author is given to flights of surrealism: “You’ve been grifting and scamming them with your camera…you’re a fraud,” a talking squirrel says, egging on a suicidal photographer. Hay’s writerly voice sounds a bit like David Foster Wallace in a gonzo vein, with lots of cultural riffs, esoteric footnotes, a profusion of characters and subplots with obscure connections, and imagery that’s sensual and evocative but in a coolly analytical way. (A man “turns and catches Not Trudy loping with a laid back stride, hips swinging freely but not for show. All her movements utilize an additional five degrees of body movement, giving her not an exaggerated effect, but one of a body enjoying being in motion.”) It’s a baggy story with third-act problems, but the author’s gorgeous prose and comic inventiveness make for an entrancing read.

A passionate meditation on art wrapped in a hilarious sendup of artistic pretensions.

Pub Date: March 23, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-952600-04-3

Page Count: 433

Publisher: Whisk(e)y Tit

Review Posted Online: Jan. 7, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

THE FOUR WINDS

The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE

In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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