Title: The Marriage Artist
Author: Andrew Winer
Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell’s Books):
“When the wife of renowned art critic Daniel Lichtmann plunges to her death, she is not alone. Lying next to her is her suspected lover, Benjamin Wind, the very artist Daniel most championed. Tormented by questions about the circumstances of their deaths, Daniel dedicates himself to uncovering the secrets of their relationship and the inspiration behind Wind’s dazzling final exhibition.
What Daniel discovers is a web of mysteries leading back to pre-World War II Vienna and the magnificent life of Josef Pick, a forgotten artist who may have been the twentieth century’s greatest painter of love. But the most astonishing discovery is what connects these two artists across half a century: a remarkable woman whose response to the tragedy of her generation offers Daniel answers to the questions he never knew to ask.”
Thoughts: From the very first sentence, the reader knows that The Marriage Artist is not going to be an easy or light-hearted read. Opening with the suicides, the reader is immediately plunged into the loss and doubt left behind for the survivors after such a death. Against this backdrop is a world unfamiliar to most readers, the art world in general and Jewish art in particular. To add even further complexity is the interwoven story of Josef Pick, which takes place in Europe during the 1930s and 1940s. Taken separately, each individual story thread is beautiful in its own right but missing a key element which allows the reader to become truly vested in the story. Taken as a whole, The Marriage Artist is a stunningly ambitious novel that covers the entire range of human emotion and experiences.
Mr. Winer challenges the reader to the core by his almost animistic portrayal of human relationships. His use of crude, inflammatory language only serves to elicit the exact same sentiments as his characters, while simultaneously hinting at the bruised egos and true sentiments hiding underneath the crassness. It is a brilliant use of the language, as the reader is thrown back and forth across the spectrum of emotions with each sentence.
Neither Daniel nor Josef are easy to understand or to love. Both are cruel in their ability to withhold affection from those most in need of it. If a reader is willing and able to see through their crusty exterior, underneath their overt prickliness is a heart that bleeds with uncommon ease. The experience, if seen through to the end, is a rewarding one.
The Marriage Artist is a beautiful juxtaposition of the very best and very worst of humanity. Daniel’s search to uncover the reasons for his wife’s infidelity and suicide lead to the discovery of what it means to truly love someone and to absolutely lose everything. Mr. Winer uses his considerable writing talent to create in the reader simultaneous feelings of revulsion and utter heartbreak. Challenging and emotionally difficult to read, The Marriage Artist ultimately leaves the reader haunted by its brutality and poignancy.