The Marriage Artist by Andrew Winer
Published by Picador, an imprint of Macmillan
When art critic Daniel Lichtmann’s wife is found dead next to the equally lifeless body of an artist – one with whom Daniel had a somewhat antagonistic relationship, no less – it seems that Daniel’s life, too, is over. Depressed at the thought that Aleksandra, who was actually Daniel’s second wife, had had such an intimate affair with Benjamin Wind that she even died with him in a supposed suicide, Daniel is all but unable to function, and seems on the verge of losing his job. One might think that Daniel would at least be glad that Benjamin, the man who stole his wife, is dead or, if he is upset, that he might be upset at his inability to take his own revenge. Instead, Daniel almost mourns for the man as he does for his wife. It is lucky that he does so, though, because at Benjamin’s funeral Daniel meets a man claiming to be Benjamin’s grandfather. This man, Max, turns on its head everything that Daniel thought he knew about Benjamin and his relationship with Aleksandra by introducing Daniel to the secret past of Benjamin’s family.
To be completely honest, I was a bit concerned starting The Marriage Artist. Suicide, lust, and infidelity in the art world just didn’t seem like an appealing premise at the time I picked it up, but I also couldn’t put it off because the BOOK CLUB discussion was looming. What I found, though, was a haunting story of love, marriage, and the ever-present influence of the past. Daniel’s story is told in parallel with that of Josef Pick, a Viennese Jew whose story begins in the years before World War II, and who is famous for his creation of marriage contracts. Either of the stories might have been overwhelming on their own, for both are filled with longing and heartbreak, but the way they are woven together prevents either one from becoming overly depressing and builds anticipation for both stories.
The Marriage Artist is a masterful example of a dual time period narrative. The stories work together beautifully, each enhancing the other. In addition, Winer takes what could have been a depressing or unappealing story and set of characters, and works them together in such a way that they hold the reader’s interest with ease. Recommended.
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