The sudden death of a successful children’s author leaves the survivors to grapple with his legacy and consider the secrets we all keep in this radiant latest from Glass (And the Dark Sacred Night, 2014, etc.).
Yes, that famous gay artist bears a striking resemblance to Maurice Sendak, but Glass has been inspired rather than constrained by her prototype. Mort Lear is an original creation, still very much a presence in the novel as it unfolds following his accidental fall from the roof of his Connecticut home. Morty has unexpectedly named longtime live-in assistant Tomasina Daulair his heir and literary executor; he has also vindictively reneged on his promise to bequeath his archives to a New York museum. In addition to this embarrassment, Tommy must deal with the previously scheduled visit of Nicholas Greene, a newly minted movie star about to play Morty in a film. The deftly structured plot centers around that visit and its disruption by the arrival of Meredith Galarza, the jilted museum’s director, and Tommy’s resentful brother, Dani, who as a boy was the unwitting model for Morty’s drawings of Ivo, protagonist of “the book that launched Lear like a NASA space shot.” We also learn that Morty had confided to Nick a startling revelation of childhood trauma even more twisted than the story he publicly told of abuse by an older man. But Glass doesn’t perpetuate the stereotype of tortured, exploitative genius; she gently explores the complex ways an artist transmutes and transcends his personal history in his work as well as the decisions people around him must make about how much they are willing to subordinate their lives to the needs of someone more gifted and driven. It’s typical of the warmhearted Glass that her conclusion finds room for compromise and mutual fulfillment among her full-bodied, compassionately rendered characters.
This is a fitting tribute to the man who brought boldness and emotional depth to children’s literature: vivid without being simplistic, as grippingly readable as it is thoughtful.