THE BIG WHY by Michael Winter
Kirkus Star

THE BIG WHY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The talented, libidinous and often notorious American landscape painter Rockwell Kent emerges like a fresh scandal in this historical novel based on the life of the man best remembered as the illustrator of Moby-Dick.

Written in the first person, as if Kent were jotting journal notes as they occur to him, the story opens on the eve of WWI when the artist discovers that both his wife and mistress are pregnant. His solution is to leave the family’s cramped Greenwich Village apartment and travel to Brigus, Newfoundland, a coastal fishing village, bidding his wife Kathleen to bring their children and join him after the thaw. (The mistress stays in Boston with a cash settlement that Kent, when the child dies, asks her to refund.) Welcomed in Brigus by arctic explorer Robert Bartlett and a fatherless boy named Tom Dobie, both of whom help Kent shore up a dwelling by the sea, among other neighborly acts to keep him from dying of exposure, the artist settles into the community with the ease of a porcupine in a pup tent. Kent’s socialist leanings and calls for the establishment of unions anger the captains of the fishing industry. His love of German music and poetry leads the locals to think he’s a spy. His refusal to heed warnings or tone down his opinions prompts him to paint a German eagle on his studio wall along with the words “Bomb Shop.” Tensions ease when Kathleen arrives with the spring, until the artist takes up with Emily Edwards, the fiancée of Kent’s young friend Dobie, who has enlisted to fight in the war. The townsfolk simply cannot comprehend the actions of the philandering man who wanders the coast and fields, observing them as they work. A spy, indeed.

The first U.S. publication from Canadian author Winter, this is a highly entertaining and ultimately profound novel of a quixotic man who reveres nature’s awful beauty.

Pub Date: Jan. 24th, 2006
ISBN: 1-59691-025-9
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 2005