A story about giving your life to art and creating and how it can consume you, especially if your art comes alive. Isabelle is a young artist taken in by a brilliant artist, Vincent Rushkin. Rushkin isn’t what he seems to be. He becomes more abusive as their relationship deepens. The twisted relationship seeps out from the art studio to Isabelle’s friends and their lives, drawing them into Isabelle’s denial of reality and being used and abused for her art. The story jumps between now and twenty years earlier when Isabelle just became Rushkin’s student, showing the confusion the older Isabelle feels towards her history and what happened back then. Her abuse has contorted her memories, wedging between the world and Isabelle and her friends, who she has abandoned in her escape from everything.
Charles de Lint speaks through Isabelle, Rushkin, and Isabelle’s writer friend Kathy, another artist Jill, and publisher Alan about what is to give oneself to art, what it means, and what it demands from the person; not to mention asking questions about what is art all about, what gives it meaning and quality, why it is and should be marveled; and how all this relates to money and living as an artist. All of the characters have a different perspective. Rushkin, being an elitist. Jill, giving no thought to money and wanting only to paint the world and its magical elements as it reveals to her. Alan, being interested in quality fiction and succeeding in life because he believes in what he does. Kathy living for the creation, to tell all the stories needing to be said.
Next to discourse about art, there is one about abuse: mental, physical, and sexual, and how such things are tied to the choices we make and how such things can shape our views, and not in a good way. Charles de Lint shows how abuse and trauma live inside many children who are forced into the streets or are in foster care. All that makes it hard to make “right” choices, hard to face the past and shape life as the person wants it. All this it the midst of others refusing to see abuse and pretending everything is fine. Trauma evolves through the story, finally arriving at truth and understanding, whatever it is.
This book is full of sorrow, pain, beauty, passion, and friendship. I loved the book and the story it is trying to tell. Reading was like having a long dialogue with a friend about passion for creation and whether it is worth giving your entire existence to. But the book is not all perfect. It is prolonged. In the middle, the book goes over the same things repeatedly, making me want to skip the text, but then there are gems about art and what it means, forcing me to read ahead. Another issue is the characters. Isabelle is hard to like, which is understandable because she refuses reality and “lets” herself be beaten. All the reader wants is her to stand up for herself and stop lying the bad memories away, but the story wouldn’t be what it is if it was so, and abuse twists the mind. Isabelle isn’t the only flawed character with annoying quirks, which makes them stubborn. John Sweetgrass makes me grimace at times. So does Colette. Both who are art escaped into the world. The only personality that shines is Jill, but she has been established in the first Newford short story collection. Jill is maybe too perfect in her imperfectness. I feel like she is Charles de Lint’s favorite, the one good thing that can’t get hurt but has to brush all the stories told.
The book bends genres. This is a mix of urban fantasy and literary fiction. The fantastical element is in the creation of the art and how it becomes real, and in Rushkin’s monstrous nature. Then there is the art, passion, and abuse and how it recoils with us. It is all too familiar to many who have given their soul to muses in the world where such things rebel against survival.
Thank you for reading, and have a bookish day ❤