Reviews, The Painting and the City

“At a friend’s party in Manhattan, sculptor Jacob Lerner sees an 1842 portrait of a young woman and quickly becomes obsessed with it. He sets a librarian friend searching for information about artist and subject, which eventuates in finding the painter’s journal of his New York sojourn for the commission. Philip Schuyler’s testimony (which appears in two separately paginated inserts in a different typeface) discloses that the painting is one of five that together constituted a threat to the subject. That threat is tangentially related to the commercial growth of Manhattan, another of Lerner’s obsessions and the motive behind a pair of installation pieces, one a dour vision of modern New York, the other a serener conception. As he sleuths the painting and builds the installations, Lerner has hallucinations in which, guided by a glass marionette, he observes scenes related to Schuyler’s and his subject’s fates, in which a not-quite-conspiracy of property owners, dating from Manhattan’s Dutch colonial days, is implicated. Seemingly informed by an artist’s eye and driven by its fantastic elements, this complex, enthralling novel is concerned with relations between art and commerce, and nature and commerce; the importance of the past; the everyday oppression of capitalism; and how art may shape history.” —Ray Olson, Booklist, starred review 

“Certainly one highlight of The Painting and the City is the city—the cities—that Wexler has built, the surreal aesthetics of their construction. Wexler captures the surrealism latent in the modern city: the odd juxtapositions; the hyperawareness of constant change; the sense that anything can happen. His amplification of these intrinsic qualities is, at first, subtle—the gradually dawning perceptual wrongness of Magritte’s Dominion of Light rather than the flamboyant distortions of Dalí (or the blatant absurdism in several of Wexler’s own short stories)…To call Robert Freeman Wexler a writer’s writer would be both a kiss of death and insufficient, but as represented by The Painting and the City it may aid understanding to call him a creator’s writer—of particular interest to those who create art in its many forms.” —Matt Denault, Strange Horizons

“At the heart of Robert Freeman Wexler’s rich and strange novel are ideas about art: its power to influence and reshape reality, the place of the artist in society, the influence of money…Wexler’s description of the daily life of a working artist in modern New York has the tang of authenticity. Into this very real, detailed setting, fantastic elements appear, such as an animated marionette made of red glass. Although they are strange and startling, they are incorporated into Lerner’s life even as his musings and dreams and personal experiences feed into the production of his art…This is an unusual, haunting tale from a distinctive new voice.” —Lisa Tuttle for the Sunday Times (London, UK) August 1, 2009

“Wexler’s novel felt as though it were a briskly-paced story that had been stripped of any extraneous fat, leaving the reader with a story that moves at a falsely languid pace until s/he realizes just how quickly things have developed and how engrossed s/he is with what has transpired.  If I had read this book last year, The Painting and the City certainly would have made my year-end Best Novels list.  Highly recommended.” Click for full review. —Larry Nolan, OF Blog of the Fallen

The Painting and the City uses a work of art from the 1840s as a modern New Yorker’s mysterious path back to a Manhattan Island both earlier and different from the one we know. From the moment he first sees it at a friend’s home, sculptor/art teacher Jacob Lerner is obsessed by its lovely “Madame Burgundy,” the sinister man who seems poised to do her harm, and the artist himself–an obscure Dutch-English fellow called Philip Schuyler. […] The Painting and the City explores the artistic/writerly temperament even as it moves deeper into the fantastic of both the 1840s and a 21st century that has nearly reached our current age of ruined greed and glorified Green…portrayed with a genuine sense of wonder, as well as the grotesque.” —Faren Miller, Locus Magazine August 2009

“Wexler’s novel is uniquely his own, a slippery thing that, just when you think you’ve got a firm hold on it, is off somewhere else entirely.”  Characters “all come alive on the page. There is a feeling of truth about the various relationships, the suggestion of more depth than the book portrays…Like a painter himself, [Wexler] brings colour and verve to the story, using a palette of words to embody the burgeoning life force lurking beneath the city streets, waiting its moment to erupt in verdant splendour. He writes of events both ominous and marvellous, that capture something of the feel of surrealism, the quality of dreams, even as they use those things to tell us the things we need to know about the world in which we live.” —Peter Tennant, Black Static 12

“Wexler conjures an unfamiliar but welcome atmosphere as well as combining elements of literary fiction with genre. There’s a layer of sophistication and complexity in The Painting and the City but at the same time, one can simply enjoy it on the most basic of levels.” —Charles Tan, Bibliophile Stalker