Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Prize by Jill Bialosky

Jill Bialosky ( is one of those many writers who's been on my radar screen for ages. She's a memoirist, a poet, and a novelist who has been compared to Alice McDermott. That should make you sit up and take notice. I spotted her latest, "The Prize," on the new book shelf at my library and seeing blurbs from the likes of John Banville, Helen Schulman, and Elizabeth Berg, I snapped it up.

The Prize

I'll admit, I wasn't smitten at first. A twenty-year marriage losing its oomph (don't they all?), a phony New York City dog-eat-dog art world where nice guys finish last (done to death?), but soon Bialosky got under my skin and I began to care about Edward and Holly Darby even if I wanted to reach through the pages and shake them.

Edward is an introvert trying to live in a world of extroverts. His job at the gallery is to mine for new talent, sign up artists, represent them, stage their shows, and bring in money. Agnes Murray is the jewel in his crown, no matter that she's needy, tedious, and insecure. Her work raises Edward's profile in the insular world of the creative while bankrolling the family's retreat in Connecticut.

There, a world away from celebrity, another introvert, Holly, relishes the cocoon Edward has built for her and their daughter Annabel. Holly prefers animals to people. She works at a refuge center and handles their barn and horses. As Edward's star rises, he's expected to travel and lecture more often, and though he tells us fervently how much he misses his family when he's away, we watch helplessly as the couple's lives begin that slow drift toward incompatibility.

The crisis, when it comes, has a feeling of inevitability. Ms. Murray is finally ready to show her new work to Edward, after a four year hiatus. But is she prepared to hear the truth from the man she's always trusted to intuit her artistic intentions? And Edward? Will he act on his burgeoning attraction to the young sculptor, Julia, with whom he's spent time in Berlin and then London?

What rescues this novel from the generally banal mid-life crisis lit is the nuanced way in which Bialosky allows us, through his sessions with a therapist, into Edward's heart where he protects his deepest fears and insecurities . The author is also bitingly funny when skewering the pretensions of the self-involved artists, their representatives, and the gallery owners who look at a canvas covered with cow dung and refuse to call it crap.

After reading this very satisfying novel I think I'll return to Ms. Bialosky's section of the library and snap up some of her earlier work. Why not give her a go?

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