Picks and Pans Review: Seek My Face

updated 12/16/2002 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/16/2002 01:00AM

By John Updike

Did you see the 2000 movie Pollock? Did you stay awake in art-history class? If so, you may quickly tire of this uncharacteristic dud from Updike. The novel seeks to trace the rise of post-WWII American art through the life of Hope Chafetz, an aging painter better known for her husbands than her canvases. Hubby No. 1 is a barely fictionalized Jackson Pollock: a tortured genius fueled by testosterone and booze. Pollock is Updike's kind of misunderstood manly mess—but even the master's prose, swinging from fine-brush realism to swooping loops of metaphor, can't save his oft-told tale from seeming smaller than life. No. 2 is a believability-straining composite of luminaries—including Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol—who serves principally as the subject of passages that could be lifted from one of Updike's art-criticism essays. No. 3, an art collector, encourages Hope's own work. Gallant of him, considering the other men in her life—including Updike—treated her as little more than a means to their own ends. (Knopf, $23)

BOTTOM LINE: Abroad but lifeless canvas

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