Life Drawing by Robin Black


Having read Tony's blogpost about this book, I figured I would enjoy it, but it turns out that It was mesmerizing from the outset and I could hardly put it down. It drew me along in a way that few books have. So, what is it about this book?

We learn the story of an artistic couple, Owen, the writer and Gus, the painter told by Gus. Owen has published five books that are well regarded but only purchased by a precious few and while Gus is respected as a painter, she has made a living largely by teaching private lessons. They receive a bequest from a relative that enables them to move out of the city to live in an old farmhouse with no close neighbors. They are recovering from the pain of an affair that Gus had which nearly ended their marriage and caused Owen much pain. He goes to his writing space in the barn each day and struggles with his inability to begin a new project while Gus works with enthusiasm on a series of paintings. After three years of solitude, a woman moves into a house nearby that had been vacant. Gus and the woman becomes close friends. The woman's grown daughter Nora comes to visit and Owen's struggle to write in the barn ends. Complications ensue.

The narrative is an intense dramatic story, while it also describes ordinary details that make a clear picture of these lives and at the same time manages to focus on Gus' creative life so that you are invited into that intimate space. The author explores the connections between the characters beautifully: the married couple, the friendship between the two women that develops over the course of the book, Gus and her student whose life she turned around, and Gus and her father whose dementia worsens. 

I like the general observations the author throws in:

One of the unanticipated impacts of our life in the country was that time had taken on a different feel. As Philadelphians, we had been teachers, shoppers, socializers, therapy attenders, bus catchers. And all of these things require an awareness of the clock and of the calendar. You have to know it's Monday and you have to know it's noon, if you are going to get to your Monday 1 p.m. appointment. But even after only a month or two in the farmhouse, we started shedding that awareness. It was so rare for it to matter much whether it was Tuesday or Sunday.

Retired folks might recognize this phenomenon.

Robin Black, Life Drawing, Random House, 2014, 240 pages. Available from the UVa and public libraries, and from Amazon.

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