An artist ponders a painting he wants to keep private along with the back stories that inspired it, the secrets that continue to haunt him.
Everett (Half an Inch of Water, 2015, etc.) continues to wrestle with issues such as artistic identity and inspiration, the relation between artists and their art, the notions of what a narrator reveals and conceals, but rarely have the results been as engrossing as this. There are three separate plot strands, skillfully interwoven, each informing the others. In the present tense, protagonist Kevin Pace, the first-person narrator, is obsessed with a large, abstract painting, a work in progress that mixes various shades of blue. He eventually reveals that he's a recovering alcoholic, now a workaholic, absorbed in his painting and his memories while generally removed from his wife and children. Ten years earlier he had a passionate affair in Paris with a Frenchwoman much younger than he. Twenty years before that, he traveled with his best friend to El Salvador, then in the midst of violent revolution, to return his friend’s brother to the U.S. The brother was likely involved with drugs, almost certainly using them, perhaps smuggling and dealing them. While there, the artist saw and did things that he has never been able to confess to anyone, but when he returned, he was “distant. Different.” He was also committed to marrying the woman who noticed these differences in him, though he’d been unsure about marriage before he left. The story unfolds through short chapters that alternate among the three times and places as the reader learns more about the artist and his painting, but the artist also discovers more about himself: “Ten years earlier I had succumbed to a banal midlife crisis, but now I was falling victim to something far worse, a late-life revelation.”
The author’s deft plotting and wry wit sustain multiple levels of intrigue, not only about how each of the subplots resolves itself, but how they all fit together.