Picks and Pans Review: The Art Fair

UPDATED 07/29/1996 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 07/29/1996 at 01:00 AM EDT

by David Lipsky

This poised first novel is told from the point of view of a grownup Richard Freely, whose nicely ordered and luxuriously appointed life is upended the summer he turns 5 (brother Jon is 7)—the summer his mother, Joan, decides to become a painter. Her success is immediate; she's the new darling of the capricious art world, selling an amazing 75 canvases in a single year. But just as quickly as Joan is embraced—and soon after she and her husband divorce and the boys move in with their father—she is discarded. "She was an abstract painter and the problem with abstraction is that your moods too clearly come through," says Richard. "No one wanted to hang pictures in their home that so clearly told—in the vocabulary of colors—that here was a woman who was depressed because she'd lost both her sons."

Richard, feeling partly responsible for his mother's fall from grace (it was he, after all, who decided to abandon his mother's downtown loft for his father's uptown apartment), is determined to recoup her life and career, mortgaging his own in the process. Lipsky's portrayal of the '70s art world is unblinking, his portrayal of the ties between parent and child deeply affecting. (Doubleday, $22.50)

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