Horrigan (Widescreen Dreams, 2001) sets his debut novel at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, where the central character, Robin, slowly travels through an exhibition titled “Motions of the Mind: The Renaissance Portrait and Its Legacy.”
Robin is a troubled young man dealing with the end of a relationship, the death of a close relative, and an unfinished doctoral degree. More pointedly, he tries to process the guilt and fear he feels after many incidents of unsafe sexual practices, including one from the previous night. Horrigan provides a floor plan of the gallery as well as reproductions of the five paintings on display that most capture Robin’s interest. Along with the helpful section “Acknowledgements and Notes on Sources” at the end of the book, these inclusions allow readers to orient themselves, spatially and otherwise, and to pursue further investigation if desired. About midway through the gallery, Robin encounters Bernard, a middle-aged therapist and former monk, and each studiously measures the degree of his attraction to the other. Curiously, they come to diametrically opposed conclusions about the essential relationship among artist, subject, and viewer. One particular mental note made by Bernard lies at the heart of the novel: “The drama depicted within the paintings, the drama which inspired them and went into their making so long ago—these were all part of the drama that included everything going on here and now in front of the paintings.” The author uses different typefaces to represent each of the multiple voices and points of view: artist, subject, viewer, critic, security guard, narrator, wall text, etc. Although the technique may seem daunting at the outset of each chapter, this cacophony of sorts becomes clearer. Horrigan tackles issues often associated with the gay community, but he also addresses the broader notion of how we interpret faces, bodies, and behaviors through keen observation.
A challenging, worthwhile account of the workings of the mind amid the contemplation of art and beauty.