Stein’s deftly written literary novel examines the art world through the eyes of a young artist, Rand Taber.
The plot centers on a dispute between two longtime friends, Simon Pruhar and Harris Montrose. Montrose paints a depiction of an artistic Muse being raped, and it appears on the cover of Vanity Fair. Simon believes the rapist looks a great deal like him, and feeling hurt and betrayed, he sues. The court trial forms the story’s main narrative thread: Did Montrose maliciously portray his friend and in the process damage Pruhar’s reputation? Unfortunately, the trial’s outcome matters little to the reader. More interesting are the characters themselves—especially Montrose because of his casual cruelty to his friend—and the discussions about what constitutes art. Both men are colossal jerks, although Rand doesn’t seem especially bothered by that fact. He’s been hired as Montrose’s assistant, but his main focus is on getting laid by Binny, who happily keeps a two-boyfriend-at-a-time policy. Rand asks another character, “When did you become an asshole?” It’s a question he well could ask three or four people in this novel. Stein’s writing is fun, with original phrasing and expressions that make this a bearable story even though it’s about obnoxious, self-important artists. Montrose describes Michelangelo’s David as the world’s largest homosexual, and Rand observes of a woman: “She wore clothes only to show she wore nothing underneath.” On the other hand, there is plenty of beautiful descriptions of irrelevancies, such as the grill marks on the salmon a woman is cooking.
The novel is certainly a worthy read for anyone interested in the art scene, but readers seeking an outcome to care about may want to keep looking.