Saturday, March 24, 2007

the last book I read

The Truth About Lorin Jones by Alison Lurie.
Polly Alter used to like men, but she didn't trust them any more, or have very much to do with them.
That's the opening line of the book, and it sets the tone, in a way, for what follows. To expand slightly: ex-painter, museum curator and writer Polly Alter acquires a commission to write a biography of dead female painter Lorin Jones, and sets out to interview everyone who knew her, either personally or professionally. Her recent painful divorce and her frienship with her lesbian best friend Jeanne colour her preconceptions of Lorin Jones' life - the fragile misunderstood genius, beaten down and exploited by a series of men, lovers, agents, art collectors, etc., but as she meets all these people it becomes clear that things are less, well, clear.

Good points: the minute details of social and sexual interaction is all very acutely observed; this really is how people behave.

Bad points: only very minor criticisms, really, but: the character of Jeanne, Polly's best friend, occasional housemate and even more occasional lover, and her shadowy friends Cathy and Ida and the rest of their "women's group" seem mainly only to be there as a straw man, a group of clearly irrational and manipulative man-haters for Polly to rebel against as she re-asserts her relationship with her teenage son Stevie and subsequently gets involved with Lorin Jones' ex-lover Hugh Cameron ("Mac") towards the end of the book. The Mac character himself also seems a little too implausibly perfect.

Of course this is all viewed through the prism of my own preconceptions, a different viewpoint might have it that Jeanne and the sisterhood are trying to save Polly from plunging back into a cycle of exploitation by men, ultimately unsuccessfully.

Lorin Jones' life and death have a series of superficial resemblances to that of photographer Diane Arbus, and by a strange coincidence she is the subject of a new film: Fur, starring Nicole Kidman and Robert Downey, Jr. Never let it be said that I don't surf the Zeitgeist.

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