In this debut novel from short-story writer Attenberg (Instant Love, 2006), widow-in-waiting Jarvis Miller guides readers through underworlds of sickness, fear and grieving.
The book is set in the modern-day Manhattan art world. Artist Martin Miller is painting atop a ladder when an aneurysm detonates in his brain and plunges him into a six-year coma. Martin leaves behind 325 works, and his agent contemplates a MoMA retrospective. Said agent, by the way, delivers some of Attenberg’s sharpest humor, as when she bitches about her earth-motherish assistant: “…she’s a little too, I don’t know, vagina for my tastes.” Having reluctantly become the Ethel Kennedy of the demimonde, Jarvis attends pity parties thrown by Martin’s rivals—they envy the authenticity of her suffering—and misses her spouse. Deliverance—or at least distraction—arrives at the laundromat, where Jarvis bumps into a troika of affable hunks: a novelist wannabe, an actor and a sweet young dad. The troupe tours coffee bars and hipster haunts, and affection and heartbreak ensue. But it’s less the story than the characters and scenes that captivate. Attenberg gets gallery-land down cold; she also writes of longing and mourning with extraordinary heart. She muses on the Big Questions—euthanasia, faith, mortality—while taking time out to incorporate savagely funny lines: “Judith was a cokehead, as well as a diabetic, a brilliant combination of death wish and death sentence.”
A likable novel marked by a profundity of feeling.