An art critic, Daniel Lichtmann, wants to solve a mystery. Recently, his wife fell to her death from a building in New York. Within seconds, a famous artist also fell from the same building and died, inches away from her. The artist happens to be Benjamin Wind, a Native American sculptor whose works have inspired some of Licht-mann’s most renowned essays. Why was Wind with Lichtmann’s wife, and why did they fall to their deaths? Lichtmann’s investigation takes him to the American West, to Vienna and to the distant past, and it changes the way he thinks about art, love, religion and death.

The Marriage Artist is soulful and poetic. Andrew Winer writes beautifully about Vienna in the years that preceded World War II, and he breathes life into the stories of men and women who perished in Hitler’s camps. His detailed, energetic descriptions of Jewish ink drawings are unforgettable; it’s no surprise that, before turning to fiction, Winer wrote extensively about the art world. The novel’s descriptions of thoughts and feelings are as evocative as its meditations on visual art. When a woman is troubled, “several painful involutions of thought” pass through her face. An upsetting letter causes “a chemical event” in a man’s gut, “something roily and electrical and cell-splitting.”

Winer is not only a lyrical writer, but also a challenging and passionate guide through the history of Europe’s Jewish population. His interest in the early 20th century and his fearless prose will remind readers of Styron’s Sophie’s Choice, Bloom’s Away and the stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer. Like those masterworks, The Marriage Artist gives us a reason to celebrate.

 

 

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