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Author of Nightwatch (1969) and the recently reissued Stargazer: Andy Warhol's World and His Films (1973), Koch now brings us a novel--or roman à clef--about the end of the 1960's, taking as its centerpiece the career and premature death of the vastly successful modern artist Mel Dworkin (read Andy Warhol). Structured on the model of The Great Gatsby, the story is narrated by Jason Phillips, NYU student of art history, who, as the novel unfolds, completes his dissertation on Marcel Duchamp (the dissertation is entitled ""The Bachelors' Bride,"" a reference to the Duchamp work, ""The Bride Stripped Bare""). As Nick Carroway meets the famed Gatsby at a party, so Jason Phillips meets Mel Dworkin at a Manhattan cocktail reception, and at once (Phillips captivates Dworkin with his brilliant intellectual analyses of Dworkin's paintings) becomes one of the great artist's entourage, complete with invitations not only to Dworkin's famous Mercer Street loft but also to his Long Island beach house. One thing leads to another, and Phillips finds himself in an affair with divorcÉe Nancy Hopkins, Dworkin's ambitious gallery director. But there are problems. One comes in the form of Nancy Hopkins' assistant, Cullen Crine, for whom Phillips has compulsive homosexual longings (Crine is golden-haired, gorgeous, and even more ruthlessly destined for the higher realms of art-world power than his employer is). Another problem is Jeffrey Hastings, favored camp-follower whose embittered envy of Dworkin's genius drives him--maybe; it's never known for sure--to the seaside murder of the gifted but manipulative artist. Thus ends the story, and the Dworkin era, but not before Phillips at last fulfills his longing for Cullen Crine, in a finally hollow fin-de-decade orgy. The novel interweaves the theme of androgyny in the narrator with androgyny in the art of Duchamp and Dworkin, and some of the most challenging passages are those from Phillips' eminently capable dissertation. The story, though, hovers between the yearning world of Gatsby and the lower regions of latter-day melodrama (""I still burn with fury when I reflect that Jeffrey was probably a witness to my final humiliation at Mel's hands""). Intellectual entertainment about the sex-and-art world of New York, with more than a touch of the literary soap.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1986
Publisher: Marion Boyars--dist. by Scribners