Selected Older Reviews

The Painting and the City

Booklist starred review by Ray Olson: “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.”

Matt Denault in Strange Horizons: “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.”

Lisa Tuttle in the Sunday Times August 1, 2009: “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.”

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