If you’re looking for a good book–a sure thing, a book you can sink down into and a world you can get lost in–you’re in luck. Robin Black’s debut novel, Life Drawing, was published on Tuesday. The story of a marriage between a painter and a writer, it’s written with lots of interiority, and most importantly, lots of honesty. The characters are as flawed as we all are, and there are no easy answers anywhere.
The opening paragraph paints a picture that sticks with the reader not only the length of the book, but even now, months after I finished it.
In the days leading up to my husband Owen’s death, he visited Alison’s house every afternoon. I would watch him trudge over the small, snowy hill between our two properties, half the time away from me, half the time toward me. And I would wonder what he thought about as he went. Wonder too if Alison watched him from a window of her own, and whether the expression she saw on his face as he approached was very different from the one I saw as he came home.
This is me, just before my first glimpse of Alison…
This is Owen, on the day we moved in…
Genius structure for a novel written in the point of view of a painter and here’s a genius use of an adverb:
We shared our bed, uneventfully.
While renovating a bathroom, Gus discovers old WWI newspapers, which spark a desire to paint these lost boys, and this project is as captivating as the relationship between Gus and Owen, with the dead boys moving through the rooms as though they had all the time in the world, an eerie echo of Owen’s movements, and for that matter, all our movements.
There are rich descriptions of table settings…
On Thursday morning, I decided to set the table in white, almost entirely white. White lace over white linen. White napkins. White china—or as close as I could find among our strange collection. White candles set into old silver candlesticks. I wanted a canvas for the meal. I wanted to experience the table filling with food as I experienced a painting coming together. The only exception I made was for a handful of leaves, still moist, orange, red, that I cut into thin strips and scattered, confetti across the whiteness, ribbons of autumn itself.
There is the world of marriage…
There are often two conversations going on in a marriage. The one that you’re having and the one you’re not. Sometimes you don’t even know when that second, silent one has begun.
Meanwhile, we lay side by side each night like figures on paired sarcophagi, and instead of stopping for a caress or a kiss when our paths crossed in the kitchen, or on the stairs, we muttered things like excuse me, and sorry about that.
Often in novels about a marriage, there’s nothing driving the novel forward. Not so here, where, with the retrospective point of view, we know from the first paragraph that Owen dies. In addition, the writing itself pushes the reader from page to page.
“Yet I didn’t hate Nora that night.”
I may have to read Life Drawing again, right now, right this minute.