The Marriage Artistby Andrew Winer
Two mysterious deaths unlock one man's past and another's future in this moving tale of art, love, and history
When the wife of renowned art critic Daniel Lichtmann plunges to her death, she is not alone. Lying next to her is her suspected lover, Benjamin Wind, the very artist Daniel most championed. Tormented by questions about the circumstances of their/b>
Two mysterious deaths unlock one man's past and another's future in this moving tale of art, love, and history
When the wife of renowned art critic Daniel Lichtmann plunges to her death, she is not alone. Lying next to her is her suspected lover, Benjamin Wind, the very artist Daniel most championed. Tormented by questions about the circumstances of their deaths, Daniel dedicates himself to uncovering the secrets of their relationship and the inspiration behind Wind's dazzling final exhibition.
What Daniel discovers is a web of mysteries leading back to pre-World War II Vienna and the magnificent life of Josef Pick, a forgotten artist who may have been the twentieth century's greatest painter of love. But the most astonishing discoveryis what connects these two artists acrosshalf a century: a remarkable woman whose response to the tragedy of her generation offers Daniel answers to the questions he never knew to ask.
Ambitious, haunting, and stunningly written, The Marriage Artist tells a universal tale of a family dramatically reshaped by the quest for personal freedom in the face of inherited beliefs, public prejudices, and the unfathomable turns of history. It is at once a provocative snapshot of contemporary marriage, the recovery of a passion that history never recorded, and a fierce reminder of the way we enlist love in our perpetual search for meaning and permanence.
—Publishers Weekly (Starred review)
"A tour de force of provocative ideas . . . expressed through emotionally riveting characters."
—Kirkus Reviews (Starred review)
"Andrew Winer is a formidable writer. He has erected an amazing Tower of Babel, a tower of history, love, marriage and art, Europe and America. In Winer's building, though, there is no confusion of languages—or only to the extent that it can fuel the masterful plot. This novel is a page-turner with a deeper meaning, a very rare amalgam indeed."
—Adam Zagajewski, author of Eternal Enemies and A Defense of Ardor
"In this intricate and far-ranging novel, Andrew Winer writes brilliantly about art and love, history, debts that can and can't be paid, fatherhood in all its guises, the importance of bearing witness, the fragile border between mortality and immortality, the speakable and the unspeakable. The Marriage Artist weaves together the lives of characters, past and present, with consummate skill, and the result is an utterly absorbing and profound novel."
—Margot Livesey, author of The House on Fortune Street
"A powerful intellect, fearless emotion, and gift for provocative metaphorical narrative, all drive this sweeping, unflaggingly intense novel. The Marriage Artist takes on big themes—love, death, faith, history—with a riveting mix of seriousness and enchantment."
—Francisco Goldman, author of The Divine Husband
"Winer creates complex characters by sketching compelling portraits. . . The result is a story that is engrossing and haunting." —abcnews.com
“Unforgettable . . . evocative . . . lyrical . . . The Marriage Artist gives us a reason to celebrate.” —Bookpage
“ [a] fearless examination of sexual power, love. . . hatred between fathers and sons, maternal instinct [and] grief. . . .” – The Rumpus
“. . . a mystery, a romance and a ghost story, and the author is adept at weaving all of these narrative threads into a single compelling tale.” – The Jewish Journal
“. . . breath-bating . . . a high-minded fusion of dark anti-love story and ethnographic detective fiction.” – The Boston Globe
“An intense and complex examination of love. . . . a mystery that raises the question of how memory, identity and love are entangled.” – Star Tribune
In this resolutely ambitious novel from Winer (The Color Midnight Made, 2002), a present-day art critic's attempt to understand his dead wife and her brilliant Native-American artist-lover intertwines with the fate of an equally brilliant Jewish artist in 1930s Vienna.
Daniel's wife Aleksandra, a photographer, has leapt to her death in New York City beside the painter Benjamin Wind, whom Daniel has glowingly reviewed. Daniel was particularly impressed by Benjamin's most recent work: floating sculptural pairings of all sorts of couples, their eyes closed. Distraught with grief and guilt, Daniel tries to makes sense both of Aleksandra and Benjamin's deaths and their affair. At Benjamin's funeral he meets Max. The elderly Jewish man claims Benjamin was not a Blackfoot Indian but his grandson. Meanwhile, parallel chapters set in Vienna before World War II introduce a young boy named Josef who discovers his genius at creating ketubots, Jewish marriage contracts in which he captures the spirit of the betrothed. As the Nazis crack down, Josef's friend Max arranges Josef's marriage to Hannah, who has a visa to emigrate to Palestine. To Max's jealous distress, Hannah and Josef fall in love and have a baby, Herman, before they can escape Vienna. Josef and Max end up in a concentration camp together. Enroute to her own imprisonment, Hannah drops Herman out a train window. Josef perishes, but after the war Max finds Herman for Hannah and they emigrate to America as a family. Sensing his parents' deceit, Herman rebels against his heritage and adopts a Blackfoot identity he passes on to his son Benjamin. Now Max asks Daniel to take Hannah, who is hiding in a nunnery, the ketubot Josef made for her in the camp shortly before his death. Daniel realizes that it inspired Benjamin's artistic masterpiece. Winer overrides the pitfalls of potential melodrama with a quiet sense of authority and an artist's eye.
A tour de force of provocative ideas—about art, love, Jewish identity, survivor's guilt, the fluidity of time and so much else—expressed through emotionally riveting characters.
The Washington Post
- Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- First Edition
- Product dimensions:
- 9.76(w) x 11.28(h) x 1.20(d)
Read an Excerpt
The Marriage Artist
We Lose Our Love to History, Part One
WHERE WILL IT BE RECORDED?
Falling, in her final moments, Daniel's wife carries in her chest a heart burdened by the weight of her love for another man. She feels something, everythinggravity? God?gripping her heart, pulling the earth upward to meet it. The sidewalk is still far below her, discolored with patches of brown and black, but it is expanding quickly, rising as if to absorb her. She has little sensation of descent. This is what falling feels like. Around her the air, life-giving and loyal all these years, yields easily despite its wet summer night thickness. It is making way for her. It is assenting to her death.
Is she aware of her lover's figure, also falling, not quite beside her, some few feet away?
No, her mind is not on the man at all. In the greatest matterslove and death, sex tooour minds are rarely in concert with our hearts.
Of Daniel she is not thinking either. Not anymore. She has no more time. She is already a part of history. And history is the time of the dead.
Finally, she is left only with vision. There is the sidewalk. There is a discarded yogurt cup. There, a cigarette butt. Images of eternity.
Then it is finished.
OR THAT IS how Daniel would imagine it, long after Aleksandra's body was found, near that of the artist Benjamin Wind, by a group of college students walking to a party. It had been an airless July night during which the heat bore down relentlessly on the city, pressing its inhabitants toward its sticky pavements. And there they were, two dark figures on the sidewalk, at angles too odd for sleep.
Because Benjamin Wind was something of a personage in New York, becausewell, because he was in many people's opinion the best artist, in any country, of the last decade and probably the first great artist of the twenty-first century, and because Daniel had in no small way helped shape that opinion by championing Wind's work in a series of essays and reviews, because Daniel had called Wind's solo exhibition that spring "possibly the best showing of art by a living artist this reviewer has ever seen," and, finally, because the woman who lay dead next to Wind on the sidewalk outside his Bowery studio was Daniel's wife, the entire art world was lousy with gossip about the deaths. Certainly Wind and Aleksandra must have been lovers, it was suggested. Perhaps thirty-eight-year-old Daniel Lichtmann, the very art critic who had made Wind's career, discovered the pair in the middle of a clandestine liaison, forced his way into the artist's studio to find them beneath its outsize window, and precipitately tossed them out of it (precisely how Daniel had done so was detailed in numerous accounts, as various and tantalizing as they were apocryphal). Or had Wind, in the throes of some impassioned dispute, pushed Aleksandra from the roof of his building and then in despair followed her down? Or a question moreinteresting by half, even for Daniel: Had it been a suicide pact? Had the two, under the influence of a mutual death drive, sought a permanent embrace, an irrevocable consummation of their love?
Each of these speculations reached Daniel, despite his self-imposed isolation after That Daythat unnameable day in his lifebut he quickly forgave his art world friends. In truth, he was as in the dark as they were about the deaths (as were the investigators who, after plying him with questions and poking about in Wind's loft and a few other corners of the art world, came up with nothing), and it was all he could do to keep his own mind from fabricating the wildest ideas. He tried, typically, to retreat from reddened mental flashes of flesh and fucking and blood to the black-and-white world of words, with pitiable results. Late one night he found himself madly searching his shelves for a volume containing the last letter of the German writer Heinrich von Kleist, who had famously committed double suicide with Henriette Vogel in 1811. When he located the entry, he rejoined the heap of trash and uneaten frozen dinners on his bed and copied down the following line, in a spiral around an empty toilet paper roll, as an imaginary reel of Aleksandra and Wind's "flight" to their death played in his mind: "What strange feelings, half sad, half joyful, move us in this hour, as our souls rise above the world like two joyous balloonists."
If the two of them had been preparing in unison for death, there were no clues to be found in their obituarieswhich were decidedly free of scandalous references. Wind's ran a half page in the New York Times. That it drew generously from Daniel's published work on the artist's life and career, that it identified Daniel as the one who had coronated Wind "The Art World's New King," that it heavily quoted Daniel's own praise of a man who had probably taken his wife from him, made reading the obituary a cruel experiencefor Danielan experience he nevertheless drew out, in a spectacular all-night exercise in self-flagellation. Over and over again he read through the obit, fixating on the words he had once written and skipping familiar biographical details, two of which would become significant to his quest to find out what had happened to his wife:
Benjamin Wind, the first Native American ever to rise to the top of the contemporary visual arts, is dead at 37.
Mr. Wind is survived by his father, Herman, a full-blooded Blackfoot, who lives in Newport Coast, Calif., and his mother, Francine, of Bend, Ore.
In contrast to Wind, Aleksandra was relegated to the "Deaths" section at the bottom of the following day's New York Times Obituaries page. Her brief death announcement had been provided by her family:
LICHTMANNAleksandra V. Beloved wife of Daniel. Beloved daughter of Salomon and Yulia Volkov. Photographer. Funeral services July 16, 10am, Weinberg-Lowensohn Memorial Temple, Queens, N.Y.
When Daniel read this, he was seated at the breakfast table that he and Aleksandra had purchased together at the Chelsea flea market. It was still early, he had been up most of the night, and his initial reaction to seeing her written about in this manner was ragenot at the "news" of her death, the cold reportage of it in ink on newsprint, but at the single-word description of her career: "Photographer."Photographer. How could this not be an insult to Aleksandra as an artist? Where was the mention of how valued she had been by the New York Times itself? He stared blinkingly at the obituary for several minutes before swiping the whole newspaper off the table.
Later that day, he was aimlessly making his way against the crush of Canal Street humanity when he realized that no amount of praise for her work would have captured what was truly great about Aleksandra. If he had ever been looked upon by a higher sympathy, it was surely through her eyes. Yet now that she was dead the world would never know that capacity of hers. Because history records what we do, not how we love. No, the latter is one of marriage's immeasurable burdens: to registerto somehow recordthe other's care.
This, Daniel came to believe, was what Aleksandra had tried to tell him one morning, only days before That Day, when he had turned from their living room window to find her silently staring at him. He was frightened by the depth of sadness in her eyes and did not immediately go to her. Nor did she answer right away when he asked her what was wrong. She regarded him with a veiled look, as if guarding a mystery. Did she know that she would soon be dead? Abruptly her expression shifted, and he began to be filled with true fear, fear that she was about to tell him the saddest news in the world. When she finally spoke it did seem like the saddest news. "I'm the only one who really sees your life," she said. He mumbled some inarticulate response, but she went on as if she had not heard him: "I don't know how to love you more, Daniel."
When she was dead not a week later, when Daniel learned that the dead take with them not only what we love in them but also what they love in us, this moment came rushing back to him. He would never forget how she had steeled herself then, after he toldher he loved her. "You love me in a disinterested way," she said, her voice hardening. "That makes you my father. Not my lover."
But it was not true. He loved her painfully.
He had loved her painfully from the beginning.
Was there any other way for two people to love each other, in the beginning, when they were each married to someone else?
THE MARRIAGE ARTIST. Copyright © 2010 by Andrew Winer. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. For information, address Picador, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
Meet the Author
Andrew Winer is the author of The Marriage Artist and The Color Midnight Made. Formerly an artist who wrote art criticism, he teaches at the University of California, Riverside, where he has directed the MFA program in creative writing. He is a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Fiction and is married to the writer Charmaine Craig, with whom he has two daughters.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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The Marriage Artist opens with two lifeless bodies on the New York summer pavement, a woman and a man. They appear to have fallen. Was it a suicide pact? Was one person pushed? Was there a struggle and both fell? Or was it something else entirely? The woman was Aleksandra Lichtmann, the wife of art critic Daniel Lichtmann. The other body was that of artist Benjamin Wind, who Daniel helped propel into fame. Then story then takes us back to 1928 Vienna and the world of ten-year-old Josef Pick. While Pick is visiting with his maternal Grandfather Pommeranz (a failed Rabbi and struggling ketubah artist) the grandfather discovers there is an amazing artistic talent dormant within the young Josef when the young man begins to create a sacred ketubah, the illuminated marriage contract of the Jews. Author Andrew Winer has juxtaposed the seemingly unrelated worlds of Daniel Lichtmann and Josef Pick in a carefully woven tapestry of family struggles, heartache and denials stretching over decades and continents. As Daniel starts on his journey to uncover the truth of his wife's death he's forced confront his own beliefs and what's important to him in his world. He also must learn to understand the motivations of people and their far reaching consequences. Like the story's young Josef Pick, Winer is also an artist. However, it is his use of words and the images they create that make The Marriage Artist the compelling work that it is. I must add that I got a bit lost for a short period as I felt the story bogged down towards the middle act, but the ending more than made up for the short term issue. I do recommend this book, it's a heartfelt study of family, faith, trust, truth and what we do to survive.
The narrative of Andrew Winer's The Marriage Artist is akin to two train tracks heading toward each other and meeting at a final destination. Imagine watching these trains from the sky, see them converge, but sit back and enjoy the view. Look at the landscape, watch the passing trees, and eavesdrop on fellow travelers' conversations and stories which only make sense once both trains have pulled into the station. Track one is the story of art critic Daniel Lichtmann, whose wife Aleksandra plunged to her death alongside Benjamin Wind, one of Daniel's favorite artists. Whether his wife and the artist were lovers is unknown. What she was doing on the roof of his building, and whether the two jumped to their deaths by choice or force, also remains a mystery. Daniel searches for answers and receives unexpected information in the form of an elderly wheelchair-bound man who attends both funerals. Track two starts in 1928 Vienna when young Josef Pick discovers his artistic talent and trains with his grandfather to paint Jewish marriage contracts called ketubah. This track follows young Josef through his teenage and early adult years, during the tumultuous start of World War II and the purging of Jewish citizens from Vienna, until it meets with Daniel Lichtmann's story in the present day. At times both sweeping and engaging, here is an author who knows his tools and how to use them. Winer's prose ranges from lilting and poetic to stream-of-consciousness. Emotional and poignant, The Marriage Artist is a vast and tremendous dramatic novel of history and heartache. Of the bonds that bring people together and the devices that tear us apart. Not knowing where the plot is taking us, the reader has no choice but to read onward, trusting in the author to reveal his secrets. And reveal he does. Winer selectively shares bits of historical ingredients to define the puzzle of present day, piecing each corner edge to its partner. Only when the whole puzzle is complete can we truly see and appreciate the splendor of the picture. Beautifully wrought and imagined, The Marriage Artist is remarkably unlike anything I've read in quite some time.