Self-Potrait With Boy: A Novel by Rachel Lyon

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Tragedy is insignifigant, banal.

Is it? Lu Rile is hungry, to be something in the art world, to make her mark no matter what. Art is to be seen, be it disturbing or not. Is it her fault if the photo that could make her career happens to be another woman’s all consumning tragedy? When she accidentally captures a young boy falling to his death in a photograph of herself, she has to decide whether betrayal is a worthy price to pay in the name of art. By chance, the boy lives in the same riverside warehouse she does, a place that smells of rat poisoning and turpentine, the only place she can afford in New York. Working in a health food store where she is treated poorly is the only way she can work on her picture a day plan, but time is of the essence, she has to be taken seriously if she will ever make a name for herself. When she forms an intensely close bond with Kate, Max’s greiving mother, the photo and the boy begin to haunt her, wreaking havoc on her sanity. This is her future, the gold, the meat and yet her love for Kate causes pause. She knows if she moves forward to show the photograph, it will be the ruin of everything she has built. There is a choice, or is there? Kate’s husband Steve is an artist, surely they understand art above all else belongs to the world? It cannot be denied that the photo is beautiful in it’s horror. It’s amazing what we convince ourselves of when it comes to our own wants.

Kate has taken Lu Rile into her home and heart, confiding the intimate struggles of her marriage, sharing the abyss of grief for her beloved,late gifted son Max, not once imagining Lu Rile is keeping the secret of her son’s final moments from her. That back in her own crummy apartment is a devastating photograph of his fall. Lu struggles just to survive, working in a health food store, her father depends on her and needs an expensive surgery, she simply is not making enough to maintain their lives. Kate knows the right people, everything is falling into place, this is the chance Lu must take, finally an oppurtunity to push her art out there. Can’t this be a blessing that blossoms out of grief and tragedy? Lu would be insane not to take advantage of the chances her friendship with Kate affords her. How much of her love and compassion, her tenderness for the deeply wounded, broken Kate is selfless? Can’t she take care of Kate but also look out for her own needs too? Why is it so wrong?

Who is this Lu? “There are so many people I had not yet become.” It seems there are so many versions of ourselves that haunt us, so many different people within us begging to be born. Is hunger and a drive to be someone reason enough to betray? Are there moral grounds that should never be tramped upon, even for the sake of art? It’s stunning the lengths people go to to make something of themselves, and what works wonderfully in this novel is the internal tug of war Lu is having within herself to do what is right, for her or for Kate, whom she’s come to love. How a novel can break your heart one moment and make you furious the next is a wonder.

I devoured this novel, it was ugly and beautiful, much like everything going on inside of Lu. It made me spitting mad at times too.

Publication Date: February 6, 2018

Scribner

 

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