Picks and Pans Review: Scumbler

updated 07/02/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/02/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by William Wharton

"I make up my own world, crawl in, then invite people to join me. This book is something like that, when I come to think about it...a bit messy, isn't it?" You can say that again. A bearded, middle-aged American artist in Paris whose friends call him "Scum"—scumbling is a technique in which a thin layer of color is put on a painting to alter the effect—is the focus of this novel. He thinks of himself as a nest maker; he finds an old, run-down carpenter's shop and turns it into a studio with an apartment for his nude model. He buys land in the country, builds a hut on it and rents it to a rich American couple who want to return to nature. He seems to get more satisfaction from his real estate deals, in fact, than from his painting. His rambling, plotless narrative is interrupted often with irrelevant fragments such as: "A new face in an old place, a nice touch little or much." Wharton, a painter who lives in Paris and is the author of Birdy, Dad and A Midnight Clear, has in this case overreached himself mightily, describing his hero as "Don Quixote, Diogenes, Santa Claus, Faust rolled into one." At the end of the novel the hero paints a huge canvas of his motorcycle-gang friends. It is so big he uses a special glass to get some badly needed distance on it. Wharton himself could have used the same sort of device to gain some perspective on this self-indulgent collection of half-baked ideas. (Knopf, $14.95)

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