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THE UNDERPAINTER by Jane Urquhart

THE UNDERPAINTER

By Jane Urquhart

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-670-87726-3
Publisher: Viking

 A finely nuanced, lyrical fourth novel from the award-winning Urquhart (Away, 1994, etc.), featuring a successful painter who, in the entrenched isolation of his old age, recalls the chain of events that cost him his best friend and the one woman who loved him. Taken one summer during WW I by his mine-speculating father to the northern shore of Lake Superior, teenager Austin Fraser, already a promising art student in Manhattan, meets Sara, the miner's daughter who will be his lover, model, and inspiration for more than 15 years. Each June, he packs up paints and supplies to go to her, but at summer's end he returns to the city and forgets she exists, focusing instead on the images he's made of her. In a similar way he compartmentalizes his other summer friend, George, a shopkeeper on the Canadian side of Lake Ontario who paints porcelain and is much altered as a result of unimaginable suffering in the war. With annual visits, Austin keeps these northern contacts alive, renewing himself in the process, but in his rigorously defended self-absorption refusing to make further commitments, especially to Sara: When his closest city friend, the exuberant artist Rockwell Kent, points out in drunken bluntness both Austin's obsession with her and the degree to which he's using her, Austin ends his friendship with Kent immediately. The next summer he calls it quits with Sara as well, just like that, and soon thereafter, utterly blind or callously indifferent to what he's doing, he brings together the lethal elements that plunge George back into his wartime hell. Few stories have brought artistic narcissism to light so powerfully or thoroughly, but this is a painterly masterwork also in its own right, poignant in each of its several landscapes and subtle in tracing the mingled nuances of love and pain. (Author tour)