Gertrude Stein has expressed her conviction that Max White is the most promising young American writer that has come her way. His first novel, Anna Becker (published by Stackpole) can be considered water over the dam. But this is unusual -- a portrait of the integration of a painter, rich and intense in conception and execution. White has succeeded in dramatizing painting in such a way that one does not have to know anything much about art to find it absorbing reading. Here is the story of John Martin, convinced that he would become the ""best damned painter in the world""--never deflected from his goal though lack of recognition might have discouraged most. He lived among the poor in Paris, in Spain; he drew his subject matter from them -- in expression too cruel for popular consumption. Years of study and exploratory work; romance, passion -- incomplete until he meets again a childhood friend, Luisa, a little Italian girl who has become a fine musician. Painting unremittingly -- and at forty realizing that his finest work is just ahead. I don't know when the story of painting in the making has been brought more alive.