HEART PAYMENTS by Gerald Jay Goldberg


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The novel-as-collage is a risky proposition--usually more distracting than evocative in its fragmented juxtapositions--but Goldberg (The Lynching of Orin Newfield, 126 Days of Continuous Sunshine) has two things going for him in this surprisingly cohesive assemblage. First of all there's the sharp, tart zest of his prose--which means that almost every piece of the puzzle here is rewarding all by itself. Second, and more important, there's the fact that most of this book is about Daniel Asher, a Los Angeles artist obsessed with the collage form--so there's a resonant rationale for Goldberg's fractured composition as he fills in Asher's life story (1916-1967) as well as the 1976 story of aging West Hollywood private-eye Henry Tattersall, who's still trying to track down a Rembrandt stolen in 1967. The connection will soon become clear: Tattersall has all along suspected that ill, debt-ridden artist Asher stole the Rembrandt, but he's never been able to prove it. And, while Tattersall somewhat haplessly pursues a new lead in 1976, Goldberg blocks in a portrait-of-the-bohemian-artist-as-an-aging-loser. There are pages from an Asher-retrospective catalogue--descriptions of his collages, often-fatuous excerpts from the catalogue's bio-critical introduction. There are newspaper clippings, his college-yearbook profile, a few documents (his second wife's suicide death-certificate, for example). And there are scenes from Asher's life, mostly from his last year--when he had a heart attack, lost his young girlfriend to a sleazy gallery owner, lost his teenage daughter to a cultish minister-boyfriend, heard his work dismissed for its non-politics (""why didn't he care about Watts or poverty or Indochina?""), reluctantly joined an anti-LBJ demonstration, got into an art-party brawl. . . and died on the way to his mother's deathbed in N.Y. (At his side: Henry Tattersall, who'd been following him.) True, Goldberg never quite overcomes the impression that he's disguising limited substance with stylistic dazzle. And the collage-pieces of 1960s politics often seem gratuitous. But the jig-saw puzzle is presented with just the right challenging, teasing seductiveness; the ugly world of art-biz gamesmanship (the envy, the humiliations) is vivid, scarred; and Goldberg's unusual blend of downbeat irony with open-throated romanticism delivers a large number of unexpectedly affecting moments. Not quite fully satisfying, then, but--like one of Asher's small-scale collages--oddly haunting overall and amusing or entrancing in many of its details.

Pub Date: Feb. 10th, 1981
Publisher: Viking