A young American artist gets tangled in the erotic web of a Frenchwoman and her family.
Despite his technical precision, Nathan’s lack of creative vision as a painter limits his success. Struggling to find inspiration, he treks through Europe in search of a muse. When he crosses paths with Anaïs and she invites him back to her family’s country chateau to paint her, his vision of her leads not only to bold sketches and portraits, but also to the start of an intense sexual relationship. After a few days, Anaïs’ parents join them at the chateau. Her mother, Sophie, is coolly critical of Nathan and his relationship with Anaïs; nevertheless, when asked to paint a portrait of Sophie, he finds himself attracted to her. Drawn to the undercurrent of sexual competition between mother and daughter, he works on his own masterwork in secret while Anaïs’ father and uncle pull him into an art forgery scheme that attracts the interest of authorities. All of this, of course, leads to tragedy, and Nathan must choose whether to save his paintings or his relationship. The first half of the novel is finely wrought; Ollestad (Crazy for the Storm, 2009) builds a delicate tension between the characters, exposing their raw desire and exploring the concept of artistic inspiration. Despite a few instances of overly complicated writing (for example: “Was she a goldmine? Or a maze that ends in a cul-de-sac or at a cliff?”), the seeds of discord are expertly sown. Once the plot expands to include the forgery scheme and all of the drama that accompanies it, however, the novel loses that careful precision and descends into the realm of melodrama.
A quietly tense and absorbing read when the emphasis is on the “erotic” rather than the “thriller.”