A more energetic, swiftly paced narrative would have strengthened this portrait of an artist coming into her own, but it’s a...



In Peale’s debut, a young woman slowly disentangles herself from the famous artist she’s been “assisting” by painting his canvases for seven years.

Such arrangements are understood, though seldom openly acknowledged by denizens of the high-powered, morally slippery New York art world, in which Emma Dial’s status is based on her relationship with her boss, Michael Freiburg. Emma, 31, whose brown hair turned silver at age 20 after her beloved grandmother died, fears that there’s truth in her censorious art-historian mother’s assessment of her abilities: She’s technically skilled but has nothing to say. So she keeps working for Michael and occasionally having sex with him, though he’s married and considerably older. It seems safer than the career path of her best friend Irene, a gorgeous filmmaker who’s always starting projects and abandoning them. Yet Emma misses “the sensation that I was in the thick of creating,” and the flirtatious attentions of Michael’s friend and rival painter Philip Cleary prompt her to slowly reassess her life. Very slowly, which is a problem with Peale’s sharply observed but peculiarly structured text. It’s difficult for readers to be patient while Emma smokes and seethes for a good three-quarters of the story, with little in the way of plot except various encounters with old friends that underscore how aimless she is. Also, although Emma tells us that Michael “lent me importance at a time when I felt I had none,” all we see him give her is grief and overbearing instructions about how to paint “his” artworks. The novel improves considerably in the final 75 pages, which include an ugly confrontation with Michael and a subtly sketched portrait of Emma’s evolving connection with Philip. It seems at first that this will prove to be another exploitive relationship with an older, more powerful and famous man; instead, the optimistic closing chapter shows him willing to accommodate her growing self-confidence.

A more energetic, swiftly paced narrative would have strengthened this portrait of an artist coming into her own, but it’s a promising first effort.

Pub Date: May 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-393-06820-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2009

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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