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On Sale: May 13, 2008
Pages: 320 | ISBN: 978-0-307-45561-1
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction

Oscar Feldman, the renowned figurative painter, has passed away. As his obituary notes, Oscar is survived by his wife, Abigail, their son, Ethan, and his sister, the well-known abstract painter Maxine Feldman. What the obituary does not note, however, is that Oscar is also survived by his longtime mistress, Teddy St. Cloud, and their daughters.

As two biographers interview the women in an attempt to set the record straight, the open secret of his affair reaches a boiling point and a devastating skeleton threatens to come to light. From the acclaimed author of The Epicure's Lament, a scintillating novel of secrets, love, and legacy in the New York art world.


BONUS: This edition includes an excerpt from Kate Christensen's Blue Plate Special

Excerpt

One


“It’s amazing how well you can live on very little money,” said Teddy St. Cloud to Henry Burke over her shoulder as she strode into the kitchen of her Brooklyn row house. She hoped he was noticing that her hips and waist were still girlishly slender, her step youthful, and that he’d describe her accurately instead of saying she was “gaunt but chipper,” like that sour–faced squaw with the crooked teeth from The New Yorker who’d written the profile of Oscar a few years ago. “I hope you’re a Reform Jew,” she added. “I got prosciutto.”

“I'm not Jewish,” he said after a second of displacement. They stood somewhat awkwardly together in the kitchen, not sure suddenly where to go now that their short walk down the hall had disgorged them into their destination. “But people often think—”

“Burke,” she said. “That’s not the Ellis Islandization of Berkowitz?”

“No,” said Henry. “It’s English.”

She leaned against the counter, her eyes fixed on some middle distance in her mind. She suspected that she looked much older in person than Henry had expected, but then, of course, she was seventy–four, and the person he’d no doubt been expecting, unconsciously, to meet was the young woman Oscar had fallen in love with. But she was proud of the fact that as old as she was, she still resembled her younger self. Her oval, narrow face had aged markedly, with shallow grooves running along both sides of her nose, slight hoods over her eyes, a subtle lengthening of the earlobes, a thinning of the lips, a network of extremely fine wrinkles around her eyes. But she held her small, well–shaped head very high, with the self–aware edge of mischief and manipulation Oscar had loved, eyes glittering foxily, as if she were about to snap out of her feigned concentration and laugh at her observer for being fooled into thinking she hadn’t been watching him all along. This air of expressive, confident intelligence, Oscar had told her, was one of the sexiest qualities about her, the electric flame that ran almost visibly soft and licking over her skin, hinting at interesting flare–ups. Then he had added that having incredible boobs didn’t hurt.

“Please sit down,” said Teddy; she intended it as a command. She wasn’t impressed by Henry. She guessed that he was forty or thereabouts. He looked like a lightweight, the kind of young man you saw everywhere these days, gutless and bland. He wore soft cotton clothing, a little rumpled from the heat and long drive in the car—she would have bet it was a Volvo. She could smell domesticity on him, the technologically up–to–date apartment on the Upper West Side, the ambitious, hard–edged wife—women were the hard ones at that age. Men turned sheepish and eager to please after about forty. Oscar had been the same way; he’d turned into a bit of a hangdog at around forty and hadn’t fully regained his chutzpah until he’d hit fifty or so, but even then, she had never lost interest in him, and she was still interested in him now, even though he was gone.

Henry chose a chair facing her and sat at the table.

“Look at this melon,” she said. “I asked my grocer to give it to me half price by letting him think it was a little soft. Well, it is, but just in one small spot.”

She began slicing the cantaloupe in half on a cutting board, holding the knife in her small square hand. Her kitchen was a long, narrow galley–shaped room with glass-fronted cupboards and an old–fashioned stove and refrigerator, a deep cast–iron sink. The room, like the rest of the house, felt as if she were only temporarily inhabiting it. It had no particular odor. Most old houses were clogged with the olfactory remnants of years of living, the memories of long–ago meals, hidden mold, the strong scent of people. This wasn’t the house she had lived in when she and Oscar were together, but the one she’d bought after his death five years ago, after selling the other one. This one had lost its history when the family who’d owned it for decades had moved out with all their stuff and Teddy had moved in with hers. Somehow, during the transfer, everything had discharged its freight of sediment, the walls of the house, her furniture and belongings, and now it all just smelled clean and impersonal. None of Oscar’s paintings hung on these walls: Oscar had never given her one.

“So,” she said abruptly from the sideboard. “What can I tell you about the great man?”

“Well,” said Henry, caught slightly off guard. “I was thinking we would start at the beginning. For now, just talk about him. We’ll get down to the nitty–gritty of dates and times later. Maybe start with how you met him, how the two of you fell in love—”

“Wine?” she said with a glint of aggression. She reached into the refrigerator, the corkscrew already in her other hand. “It’s a Sancerre, but not as expensive as it tastes, by far.” She wrested the cork from its hole with a faintly savage twist of her wrist. She had been expecting someone Jewish like Oscar, someone ballsy, someone fun to banter and flirt with, not this twerp in rumpled khakis.

“Sure,” he said with a puzzled sidelong look up at her.

“Henry,” she said as she set his glass down with a snap in front of him, “let’s establish one thing right now. This discussion is nonnegotiable. If you won’t listen to what I have to say, you can drink your wine and eat a little melon and then you get up and leave. You’ve clearly arrived with some preconceived notions, and if you can’t shake them loose out of your head like a lot of…moths, then I have nothing to say to you.”

Henry blinked. “I have no preconceived notions,” he said. “I’m here to listen.”

“I want to see a flock of moths rising from your head,” she said. “I’m going to roll the melon with prosciutto now, and when I next turn around, I want to see white fluttery little things rising from your hair and flying out the window.”

She flung open the casement window over the sink and the room was immediately crowded with the sounds of tree leaves, birdsong, and the shouts of kids in a nearby backyard. Her back was turned to him. She could feel her body quivering like an arrow aimed at someone’s heart as she worked.

“You’re right about this wine,” he said. “It’s delicious.”

“No man should ever use the word delicious,” she said.

“Teddy,” he said clearly.

She turned slowly to stare at him. Had he actually just called her by her nickname? They looked at each other blank–faced for an instant, and she imagined that he was also wondering this same thing.

“Claire,” they both corrected at once.

“Yes?” she said.

“Talk to me about Oscar,” he said. He took another taste of wine.

“The great man,” said Teddy with a private inner smile, “was the biggest human baby in all of history. That’s no secret: We all know how his women propped him up, me and his wife, Abigail, and sister, Maxine, and our daughters, not to mention every woman he met at an opening or on a train. He couldn’t live without a woman around to look at and probe, by which I mean fuck but also investigate thoroughly.”

Henry picked up his pen and glanced at his notebook but didn’t write anything down.

“He couldn't live without a woman around,” she repeated. She knew he wanted dates, knew his monomaniacal, orderly biographer’s mind was lying in wait, biding its time, until it could spring forth like an anteater’s tongue and cleanly extract the facts of her history with Oscar like a swath of ants from an anthill. She felt herself resist this with everything she had. No fact, no date—“Oscar Feldman first met Claire St. Cloud on October 7, 1958,” for example—could convey anything of what had really gone on between them. “He saw women as the most powerful beings on earth. You can see it in his portrait of our daughter Ruby as a baby, the girl child with the knowing eyes of a brutal queen. He could catch that complex expression in a baby girl without undercutting her cuteness, without forgetting she was just a baby. But he wasn’t Picasso.”

She looked at him for a reaction. He smiled a little.

“Well, obviously no one is Picasso,” she went on. “That’s not what I meant. My point is, Oscar had no fear of women’s power; he thrived on it. He got off on how strong the women in his life all were; it turned him on; he sucked on the nipples of all of us. That’s where his strength came from. He went right to the source, and it always flowed. His electricity outlets. I think we all liked Oscar, really liked him, not only loved him—all of us in our own different ways, even his sister, Maxine, with whom he never got on at all. I think she secretly liked him, too.”

“What's the difference?” he interjected. “Love, like.”

“I imagine,” she went on as if he hadn't interrupted, “that Picasso was erotic catnip, with his fear and arrogance and his cold sexual eye. But he didn’t really like women, and I don’t imagine women really liked him, although they may have felt no end of passion for him, the feckless need to conquer or submit. Oscar was needy and soulful, and he liked women without fear. He respected us; he let us be as powerful as we were capable of being. But he wasn’t pussy–whipped, as the excellent expression goes, not by me, not by his wife, not by his mother when she was alive, although he adored her, too. He was fully independent of us. He came and went as he pleased and didn’t let us control him…No, he was an appreciator. I liked him right back, more than I’ve ever liked anyone else, my own children included.”

She stopped for a moment to think. This time, Henry didn’t interrupt her. “Well, we women don’t always like our children, not always; we love them with that primal mother instinct, and we love our power to take care of them, but sometimes we don’t like them somewhere deep inside. I sometimes felt it toward my twin girls—I couldn’t help it—maybe because I had them both at once, so it was intensified, and of course their father was no help whatsoever; I did it all alone. Which is completely preferable, please don’t misunderstand me. I didn’t want any help from Oscar. This way, I had all the power; I was in control. It was a fair trade–off, I thought. You haven’t written anything down yet.”

“Some women go off the opposite edge,” said Henry. “My wife adores our baby son beyond all reason. I worry sometimes that she’ll eat him alive. This morning, she kissed him with the predatory zeal of a succubus.”

Teddy smiled at him, appreciating the phrase. “We all adore our babies beyond reason; it’s the way we’re made. And I didn’t say I thought all women harbor a small amount of dislike for their children; obviously, I couldn’t possibly know that.”

“Abigail Feldman talked at length to me a few days ago about Ethan,” he said. “How it feels to love someone who can’t express love back…She talked about how pure her love for him has always been, untainted by resentment of any kind.”

“That’s love, Henry. You’re not making the distinction. He’s so deeply autistic he’s locked up in his own mind; it’s impossible to dislike someone who isn’t fully there. Dislike requires presence.”

“She was very open with me. You are, too. I appreciate that. I had expected it to be much harder to get you all talking.”

“Then you didn't know Oscar. He always got us all to spill everything, hold nothing back, so we’re well trained.”

“In that case,” said Henry gingerly but with a daring expression, as if he thought he was about to cross a line, “since the subject has been brought up, Maxine suggested to me that the reason Oscar stayed with you was that he felt displaced. That when Ethan was born, of course all Abigail’s energy and time went to her son. Maxine suggested that Oscar replaced her with you.”

“Did she say that?” asked Teddy, hoping she sounded calm; she’d never liked Oscar’s sister one bit, and knew it had always been mutual. It enraged her that this version of her affair with Oscar might make it into Henry’s book in any form. “I’m not surprised that Maxine would draw such a crude, wrongheaded, idiotic conclusion about why Oscar loved me.”

“It’s understandable that someone might draw such a conclusion…It seems like elementary psychology, doesn’t it?”

“I was right,” Teddy snapped. “Those moths are eating into your brain. Burrowing into the wet gray folds and gouging tunnels.” She stopped and looked hard at him, something working in her expression. “I bet,” she said, “you’re one of those failed painters who think they can redeem themselves if they pay homage to Saint Oscar. And I bet you’re projecting your own sexual frustration onto Oscar.”

Henry coughed, probably with surprise.

“Here, have some melon,” she said. “Trust me, the prosciutto is some of the best in Brooklyn.”

“You were right about the wine, I'll give you that,” he said.

“I’m always right,” she said. “It would be much easier for both of us if you just accepted that now and proceeded accordingly. Oscar came to me, in short, because I was exciting. I always liked Abigail, by the way, when I met her at openings and so forth, but I never thought she had much juice. Oscar married her to please his family. He took up with me to please himself.”

“Fair enough,” said Henry.

She imagined he was probably thinking he should appease her, or else he was feeling sorry for her for just being Oscar’s mistress all those years, and never his wife.

“Fair enough,” he repeated.

Nettled, she turned to the window to look out at the pale blue Brooklyn sky, crisscrossed by wires and leaf–filled branches.

“This prosciutto is perfect,” Henry blurted through a mouthful of cantaloupe. “I was going to say ‘delicious,’ but I was afraid you’d stab me.”

“It’s such a precious word,” said Teddy. “No one should use it to refer to anything but food, and even then, with caution. My dearest, oldest friend uses it to describe her grandchildren, the summer morning, a cello sonata on ‘Evening Music,’ and the way her bare feet feel on the sands of Shelter Island. I can’t believe she’s still my friend, but we were college roommates, and then we raised our children together.”

“Lila Scofield,” said Henry, taking another piece of melon.


From the Hardcover edition.
Kate Christensen|Author Q&A

About Kate Christensen

Kate Christensen - The Great Man

Photo © Michael Sharkey

KATE CHRISTENSEN is the author of six previous novels, most recently The AstralThe Great Man won the 2008 PEN/Faulkner Award. She has published reviews and essays in numerous publications, most recently the New York Times Book ReviewBookforumOElle, and Gilt Taste. She writes an occasional drinks column for The Wall Street Journal called "With a Twist." Her blog can be accessed at: http://katechristensen.wordpress.com. She lives in Portland, Maine.
 

Author Q&A

In Conversation with
Kate Christensen
Author of
THE GREAT MAN


Please finish this statement: Behind every great man is a great


ego.  No one is great by luck or accident: artistic achievement is the result first and foremost of an overweening drive to create something out of nothing.  I suspect that even the most reclusive poet (Dickinson, for example), visionary sculptor (Michelangelo) or selfless novelist (Eliot) has a gigantic ego, and furthermore, that you don’t have to scratch very hard to find it.  Not every great man has a great woman behind him; only the lucky ones do.


Why two biographers?

I began two different versions of this novel, each with a different biographer, Ralph and Henry.  Neither version went anywhere until I realized that the novel needed both of them, and then it took off.  I liked the inherent dramatic tension in rival biographers, plotwise, and I also liked the way their duality develops and deepens and points to the initially fractured portrait of Oscar that I hope becomes increasingly coherent and clear as the book goes on — and then diverges again in the two biographies.


Why did Oscar only paint the female nude?


The female nude was the best means to the most important end for him, not necessarily an end in itself.  Oscar was obsessed, monomaniacally, with women.  He was more obsessed with women than he was with painting — painting was only the vehicle to capture and penetrate and experience women in a way sex couldn’t.  He had literally no other subject — one of his many limitations.


What makes Oscar so compelling to the women in his life?

First of all, Oscar loved women.  He loved them, appreciated them, made them feel seen, sexy, wanted, intelligent, needed.  Also, he was demanding, but he wasn’t mercurial or unpredictable; he didn’t act out of character in heartbreaking ways, he gave exactly what he promised, and fulfilled everyone's expectations to the end.  Teddy, Abigail, Maxine, and Lila are all capable of apprehending irony and contradictions.  They’re complex people, in flux.  Oscar was not: he was two–dimensional as a person, fixed, unchanging, certain of his opinions.  I think that sort of fixed certainty can seem very sexy — also frustrating, also stifling — therefore each woman had a fractured, incomplete relationship with him.  Each woman loved him in a different way: Abigail, in a nutshell, because he could do what she wanted to do and couldn’t, Teddy because he was in her thrall and she craved control and power, Lila because she was desperately hot for his confidence and way of looking at a woman, and Maxine because he was her little brother, in spite of everything.  They all saw through him, all understood him.  There is a pleasure in deeply getting someone.  Women could feel very close to Oscar — he didn’t swerve, he never surprised anyone, he was totally trustworthy and appealing within the confines of his character.  He was a “manly man” of the mid twentieth century — successful, unapologetic, owing no explanations to anyone. 


Who has the better life: Teddy or Abigail?

Abigail wanted to be a college professor, but she wasn’t analytical enough.  Instead, she lived a cloistered life, watching the world from her gilded cage, bound to her emotionally locked–in son in their airless apartment, reading novel after novel as her peripatetic husband came and went and lived off her money.  But she had a lover, a passionate affair. She had a deep friendship with her housekeeper, Maribelle.  She loved her son and was devoted to him.  And she had the legitimacy of marriage; she was a wife, and didn’t regret marrying Oscar.  She is perplexed by the way her life ended up, but not bitter; Abigail doesn’t have bitterness in her, but she’s defined by resignation and yearning.  She feels claustrophobic, lonely and unfulfilled at the end of her life.  Her new friendship with Lila (ironically, she and Teddy shared a husband, and now they’ll share a best friend) is more exciting to her than her new affair with Rex, just as she missed Maribelle much more than she missed Oscar when they both died in the same year.

Teddy was born rich, became poor, left Vassar, and became exactly what she was best suited to be: a mistress, bohemian, a single mother, self–supporting.  She threw wild parties, drank, sustained a good sex life with Oscar, and raised two daughters the way she wanted to, on her own terms.  But she is also, like Abigail, beset at the end of her life by resignation and yearning: yearning for Oscar, for new passion, resignation about her daughters’ aloofness from her, her own loneliness.  “If you were a woman, you could never have everything,” she thinks at the end of Chapter Two.

Of the two, Teddy is outwardly more fulfilled, but neither woman wanted all of Oscar.  They didn’t mind sharing him, really — sharing him gave each of them, mistress and wife, a tremendous amount of space and time within the confines of an intense relationship with a needy, demanding egomaniac.  Neither of their lives seems entirely enviable to me, but of the two, I’d take Teddy’s any day.


This story reveals a number of “truths”­how important is the truth?

The “truth” — about a life, an artistic oeuvre, a single work of art, a biographical stance, a relationship, a long–ago conversation or love affair — is mutable and slippery.  It changes from day to day, from person to person.  The answer depends on who’s asking the question as much as who’s answering it.  Oscar is the unchanging (but absent) source of heat and light around whom everyone moves: women, biographers.  The light he sheds illuminates things at varying angles, degree of shadow, intensity.  His fixedness creates a kind of emotional uncertainty principle depending on anyone’s perspective and mood.  There was only one Oscar, it turns out, the same Oscar for everyone, the way we all live under the same sun, but that light waxes and wanes and goes away at night.


Did you set out to write a sexy novel about women in their 70s?

I did!  I set out to allow my characters, women in their 70s and 80s, a kind of frank sexuality I haven’t seen much in “older” women in literature.  Teddy is English, given to innuendo and flirtatious ceremony more than blatant lust, but she says “fuck” and is excited by food and wine and the idea of sex, the language around sex — Abigail, the Conservative Jew, is somewhat repressed, but her three–year–long affair with Edward, Ethan’s poetry–reading, cognac–sipping young doctor, provided her with a lifetime’s worth of memories and erotic longing.  She probably would have done well to fall in love with Maribelle, actually, but she was far too prim and proper to acknowledge any attraction she might have had for her housekeeper.  Maxine, a nonreligious Jew and a frank lesbian, is lusty and bluntly so, unrepressed and straightforward.  Unfortunately, she’s also got problems being close to people and expressing affection, so she’s had lots of sex in her life but failed to find lasting love.  Lila, the New England minister’s daughter, had two husbands over many years and was faithful but wanted Oscar, then in the course of the novel, she falls into a torrid affair with a younger man she meets in the street.  But instead of the joy Teddy feels when she and Lewis finally sleep together, Lila experiences the sense of diminishment some women feel, the loss of autonomy that can happen in a relationship with a man.  For years, throughout her marriages, she was in love with Oscar, who wanted women to be themselves as fully as possible so he could appropriate them in paint — instead, she got underachieving “mediocre” men she had to push to succeed; her affair with Rex, even though it's sexually fulfilling, bores her.  I hope all four of these women have understandable, contemporary attitudes toward and experiences with sex.   I hope they’re all believably sexual and interesting because of it —


From the Hardcover edition.

Praise | Awards

Praise

The Great Man is as unexpectedly generous as it is entertaining. . . . Wise and expansive. . . . Christensen is a witty observer of the art universe.” —The New York Times “Christensen's writing is clear-eyed, muscular, bitingly funny, and supremely caustic about the niceties of social relations, contemporary American culture, and sexual politics.” —O, The Oprah Magazine “These characters are wonderfully developed and break the stereotype of the aging female protagonist. Christensen . . . boldly has raised the bar.” —USA Today "Nimble, witty and discerning, Kate Christensen is single-handedly reinvigorating the comedy of manners with her smart and disemboweling novels of misanthropes, cultural and aesthetic divides, private angst, social ambition and appetites run amok." —Chicago Tribune

Awards

WINNER 2008 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction
Reader's Guide|About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions|Suggestions

About the Book

The Great Man is as unexpectedly generous as it is entertaining. . . . Wise and expansive. . . . Christensen is a witty observer of the art universe.”
The New York Times

The introduction, discussion questions, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group's discussion of Kate Christensen's The Great Man.

About the Guide

Oscar Feldman, the renowned figurative painter, has passed away. As his obituary notes, Oscar is survived by his wife, Abigail, their son, Ethan, and his sister, the well-known abstract painter Maxine Feldman. What the obituary does not note, however, is that Oscar is also survived by his longtime mistress, Teddy St. Cloud, and their daughters.

As two biographers interview the women in an attempt to set the record straight, the open secret of his affair reaches a boiling point and a devastating skeleton threatens to come to light. From the acclaimed author of The Epicure's Lament, a scintillating novel of secrets, love, and legacy in the New York art world.

About the Author

Kate Christensen is the author of the novels In the Drink, Jeremy Thrane, and The Epicure's Lament. Her essays and articles have appeared in various publications, including Salon, Mademoiselle, The Hartford Courant, Elle, and the bestselling anthology The Bitch in the House. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband.

Discussion Guides

1. The novel opens with Oscar Feldman's obituary, which states that Oscar was survived by his sister and wife. The obituary mentions neither his mistress nor their daughters. How did this affect your reading of Chapter One, which is about Teddy St. Cloud? Did you find it confusing? Ironic? Did it take a while to figure out who she was? Why do you think the author chose to begin the book this way?

2. How does the fact that there are two biographers rather than just one add to or detract from the dramatic tension of the book? How would you characterize Henry's and Ralph's aims, feelings, and ideas about Oscar at the beginning of the book? How and why do these shift and change during the novel? What, if anything, does the book review at the end add to the story?

3. Maxine Feldman has some rather complex and very strong feelings about her brother. How would you characterize these feelings? What are some of the reasons behind them? Do you empathize with her?

4. Abigail Feldman tells Henry that she's surprised that she ended up married to a man who came and went, cloistered in an airless apartment taking care of an autistic son, with a black housekeeper for her best friend. What are some of the reasons you think she might have chosen this life instead of the life of an unmarried English lit professor she had always thought she wanted? Do you believe the life she ended up with was more or less happy or fulfilling for her than the one she didn't choose?

5. Do you think any of the women in the novel felt happy and fulfilled by their lives? Did any of them have as much control over their own actions and fates as Oscar had over his?

6. How does this quote from “The End of the Novel of Love,” by Vivian Gornick, relate to Oscar Feldman's women and biographers? “How many women and men have I, in my short, obscure lifetime, watched subjugate themselves to The Great Man, the one who seemed to embody art with a capital A or revolution with a capital R? Our numbers are legion. We ourselves were intelligent, educated, talented, none of us moral monsters, just ordinary people hungry to live life at a symbolic level. At the time, The Great Man seemed not only a good idea but a necessary one, irreplaceable and unforgettable.”

7. Did the revelation that Maxine painted “Helena” surprise you? Does knowing this necessarily change the way the painting is seen? Do you agree that it also changes the way “Mercy” is seen as well, as Ralph says? Why or why not?

8. Throughout the novel, Oscar is a kind of focal point that unites all the characters and provides the story with its drama and flow, even though he's dead. Did you find that Oscar came alive for you in everyone's various feelings about and memories of him, or did he remain somewhat incomplete and shadowy? How do you feel about Oscar-do you admire him? Disapprove of him? Wonder why all the women were so in love with him? Envy him?

9. “If you were a woman, you could never have everything,” Teddy thinks at the end of Chapter Two. “[My mother's] a control freak,” Ruby tells Ralph at the end of Chapter Three. How do you think Teddy's awareness that she couldn't have everything, coupled with her evident desire for control, affected her decision to be the mistress for many decades of a man who was married to someone else and faithful to no one?

10. The book ends at Maxine's retrospective—Maxine died famous, but with the bittersweet knowledge that her pride prevented her from finding lasting love with Jane; Teddy has fallen in love with Lewis, but their time together is limited; and Abigail and Lila have become friends, but neither of them ever found the fulfillment in work each had hoped for as a young woman. Meanwhile, Henry is having a passionate love affair with Ruby, which sickens him with dread about his marriage; Ralph is financially secure now because of his secret deal with Abigail, which is essentially to whitewash the truth about his former idol, Oscar. Each of them has in some way received what she or he wanted, but in a compromised way. Is this a sugary, happy ending, a realistically true-to-life one, or an ironic and complicated one?

Suggested Readings

Peter Carey, Theft; Danielle Ganek, Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him; Joshua Henkin, Matrimony; Claire Messud, The Emperor's Children; Cathleen Schine, The Love Letter, The New Yorkers; Dani Shapiro, Black & White; Patricia Volk, To My Dearest Friends; Meg Wolitzer, The Ten-Year Nap, The Wife.

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