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THE GREAT MAN by Kate Christensen

THE GREAT MAN

By Kate Christensen

Pub Date: Aug. 14th, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-385-51845-1
Publisher: Doubleday

After a famous painter’s death, the septuagenarian women who loved and survived him reexamine their lives, in a novel as much about aging as art.

Oscar Feldman was a typical larger-than-life, mid-20th-century New York artist with a huge appetite for life’s sensual delights and an equally huge ego. Although he worked when abstracts ruled, he painted only realistic nudes, always women. Now two biographers, angst-ridden new father Henry Burke and gay black intellectual Ralph Washington, have competing contracts to write his biography. Each man seeks out interviews with Oscar’s wealthy, devoutly Jewish wife Abigail, his longtime (but not only) mistress Teddy and his sister Maxine, well-known in her own right as an abstract painter. On the Upper West Side, Abigail accepted Oscar’s philandering and narcissism without complaint and cared for their severely autistic son Ethan without his help. She also carried on a passionate three-year affair with Ethan’s doctor and now is not above bribing Ralph to put a favorable gloss on Oscar’s worst peccadilloes. In Brooklyn, earthy, avowedly Bohemian Teddy bore Oscar twin daughters and provided passionate devotion with no strings attached. She prefers neurotic Henry as a biographer, sensing his sexual energy. Maxine, still painting in Soho at 79, resents the attention paid to her brother. Nevertheless, the flimsy plot concerns her desire to protect his reputation. Her failed effort to hide the secret behind one of his most respected paintings involves Maxine’s female former lover and Teddy’s best friend, who also secretly loved Oscar. As they muse on Oscar’s life and art, the women feed the biographers and themselves wonderful meals, bicker and find common ground where none previously existed. Friendship and sexual love remain of vibrant importance for these tough old birds, unforgettable and far more engaging characters than predictable Oscar.

A joyful art-world romp from Christensen (The Epicure's Lament, 2004, etc.) that allows aging women to come across as sexy.