“A daringly inventive parable of female creativity and motherhood” (O, The Oprah Magazine) from Myla Goldberg, the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of Bee Season, about a female photographer grappling with ambition and motherhood—a balancing act familiar to women of every generation.
Feast Your Eyes, framed as the catalogue notes from a photography show at the Museum of Modern Art, tells the life story of Lillian Preston: “America’s Worst Mother, America’s Bravest Mother, America’s Worst Photographer, or America’s Greatest Photographer, depending on who was talking.” After discovering photography as a teenager through her high school’s photo club, Lillian rejects her parents’ expectations of college and marriage and moves to New York City in 1955. When a small gallery exhibits partially nude photographs of Lillian and her daughter Samantha, Lillian is arrested, thrust into the national spotlight, and targeted with an obscenity charge. Mother and daughter’s sudden notoriety changes the course of both of their lives, and especially Lillian’s career as she continues a life-long quest for artistic legitimacy and recognition.
“A searching consideration of the way that the identities and perceptions of a female artist shift over time” (The New Yorker), Feast Your Eyes shares Samantha’s memories, interviews with Lillian’s friends and lovers, and excerpts from Lillian’s journals and letters—a collage of stories and impressions, together amounting to an astounding portrait of a mother and an artist dedicated, above all, to a vision of beauty, truth, and authenticity. Myla Goldberg has gifted us with “a mother-daughter story, an art-monster story, and an exciting structural gambit” (Lit Hub)—and, in the end, “a universal and profound story of love and loss” (New York Newsday).
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About the Author
Myla Goldberg is the bestselling author of Feast Your Eyes, The False Friend, Wickett’s Remedy, and Bee Season, which was a New York Times Notable Book, a winner of the Borders New Voices Prize, a finalist for the Hemingway Foundation/PEN award, and was adapted to film and widely translated.
Hometown:Brooklyn, New York
Date of Birth:November 19, 1971
Place of Birth:Washington, D.C.
Education:B.A., Oberlin College, 1993
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Feast Your Eyes includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Feast Your Eyes, framed as a catalogue from a photography show at the Museum of Modern Art, tells the life story of Lillian Preston: “America’s Worst Mother, America’s Bravest Mother, America’s Worst Photographer, or America’s Greatest Photographer, depending on who was talking.” A singularly dedicated artist, Lillian flees suburban Cleveland, Ohio, leaving behind her disapproving parents, for New York City in the early 1950s. There, she spends the next two decades working assiduously on her photography—mostly street photography, though after she has a child out of wedlock, also pictures of her daughter.
When a small gallery exhibits “The Samantha Series,” photographs of Lillian’s partially naked child, Lillian is arrested, thrust into the national spotlight, and targeted with an obscenity charge. Mother and daughter’s sudden notoriety changes the course of both of their lives and especially Lillian’s career, as she stops showing her photography completely.
Narrated by Samantha, who rechristens herself Jane, Feast Your Eyes reads as a collection of Samantha’s memories, interviews with Lillian’s friends and lovers, and excerpts from Lillian’s letters—a collage of stories and impressions, together amounting to an astounding portrait of a mother and an artist dedicated, above all, to a vision of beauty, truth, and authenticity.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. The novel itself is the catalogue from Lillian Preston’s photography exhibit at MoMA. What do we gain from this nontraditional narrative framing? Does it grant us better insight into the characters? The photography?
2. The catalogue begins: “Feast your eyes, America. Here she is: America’s Worst Mother, America’s Bravest Mother, America’s Worst Photographer, or America’s Greatest Photographer.” What does this proclamation reveal about the expectations of women as mothers and artists? How does it set the stage for what unfolds?
3. On page 32, it’s noted that Lillian’s portraits, which often featured nudity, “were a way for her to study what lay at the core of people.” How does this concept of nudity differ from that of a male artist depicting a nude woman? Can this be understood as the “female gaze”?
4. Lillian is often adamant that there is no connection between her nonautobiographical photographs and her life. Do you think this is possible? What do you think is the art/life connection?
5. How do Lillian’s precluded abortion, pregnancy, and Samantha’s eventual birth reflect the social and medical norms of the 1950s? What did it mean to choose to be a single mother in that era? Later in the book, when Jane chooses to get an abortion, the procedure has been legalized. How does Jane’s legal abortion experience differ from Lillian’s illegal one? In what ways is it the same?
6. Lillian moves with Ken from New York to Brooklyn Heights in 1956. Do you think Lillian’s photographs change as her New York setting changes? Can you discern a certain Manhattan era of her work? A Brooklyn era? How do we watch New York evolve over the years?
7. Why do you think Lillian is so resolute against having another child with Ken? How does Lillian’s choice to only have one child, Samantha, impact her life and work?
8. On page 150, Samantha writes: “Photographs have an annoying habit of corroding whatever real memories you have of a moment until the photo is all that’s left.” What is the relationship between memory and photography?
9. We are reintroduced to Lillian’s most infamous photograph Mommy is sick in the catalogue notes. What does it reveal about abortion in pre Roe v. Wade abortion? What does the controversy surrounding it reveal about women’s rights in the ’60s? Did knowing the backstory about the photo impact your understanding of it?
10. In response to the New York court case and the controversy, Samantha changes her name to Jane. In what other ways, was their mother-daughter relationship affected due to all the negative attention?
11. Years later, after abortion became legal, Mommy is sick becomes popular, inspiring punk rock songs and granting Samantha a sort of cultural cachet. Can you think of other examples of works of art leading culture and having political impact?
12. As she is dying, Lillian takes a series of portraits of herself tense with pain and then still. How do these photographs serve as a finale for her life’s work?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Look at the collected photos in Sally Mann’s Immediate Family, which caused controversy similar to Lillian’s because it included shots of the photographer’s nude children.
2. Read Diane Arbus: Revelations, a collection of photos, letters, and diaries, put together by her daughter, telling the story of the photographer’s life.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
ks Browse ▾ Community ▾ Search books Mary Robinson Mary Robinson's Reviews > Feast Your Eyes: A Novel Feast Your Eyes by Myla Goldberg Feast Your Eyes: A Novel by Myla Goldberg (Goodreads Author) F 50x66 Mary Robinson's review Apr 23, 2019 · edit really liked it bookshelves: advanced-reader-copy-titles, historical-fiction, literary Written in the form of a museum catalog, Feast Your Eyes by Myla Goldberg tells the story of the life and photographic work of Lillian Preston. In 1955, Lilly flees Cleveland after high school to go to New York City to attend photography school, to the dismay of her conservative parents. Soon she is perfecting her technique and moving in a circle of artists, poets and young New Yorkers. After having a child out of wedlock at 19, she continues to subsist on a bookstore job and waitressing while pursuing her photography. The controversy over an exhibit produced by a new-friend and gallery owner drives a wedge in her art, in her relationships, and in her daughters view of her and the world. Told alternately by her daughter describing the prints in the exhibition, interspersed with journal entries and letters to friends, lovers and Lilly's parents, we follow the mother and daughter through a rocky relationship with each other and with Lilly's art. The story telling is intense and intimate, coming full circle as Lilly battles Leukemia in the 1970s while Samantah Jane enters college. Her daughter does not reckon with Lilly's art until well after her mother's death, and then begins to understand the controversy and the decisions they each made in reaction to the controversy and in reaction to each other. Well written and engaging, highly recommended.
I received an advanced digital copy of this book from the author, Netgalley.com and Scribner Publishing. Thanks to all for the opportunity to read and review. Written as a catalogue for an exhibition we never actually see, we are introduced to Lillian and Samantha Preston. Brilliantly executed, the premise is so different than what readers have seen before, although the artist's inner turmoil and struggles and joys are still there to be experienced. Do not miss this book! I look forward to reading more from Ms. Goldberg in the future. 5 out of 5 stars. Highly recommended.
”Just as I was beginning to worry that waiting was all there would ever be, I picked up a camera – but you know this already. You’re the only one who understands when I say that making pictures makes me fully and truly myself.” Lillian’s love of photography began through her high school photo club, and her love led to a desire to pursue her passion, hoping that one day she would be working as a photographer for a magazine or newspaper. Shortly after her graduation, she forgoes her parents’ plans for her to attend college and moves to New York City in the mid-1950s. Her story is shared, in part, as a catalog of a photography exhibit, so you are able to see much of her life through her eyes and her vision of capture-worthy moments, her journal entries as well as letters, interviews of friends and lovers, and through her daughter’s eyes and memories. There is in one way, Lillian’s personal story, her journey to become the photographer that would not only shoot beautiful photographs, but one that could share a truth that would move people, never imagining her work would alienate them. Inspired by photographers such as Sally Mann, Diane Arbus and the stories of their struggles as females, as well as female photographers in an era when that was an anomaly, the main story of this is one that Sally Mann is perhaps more associated with. An innocent photograph of a young girl, in Lillian’s case her daughter Samantha, wearing underwear only, is photographed. Sally Mann photographed her children at play, sometimes without clothing, and the description of the censored photograph in Lillian’s story closely matches the newspaper article that followed one of Mann’s photographs on a 1990 cover of Aperture, a photography magazine. The Wall Street Journal, using the same photograph of Mann’s daughter Virginia, placed black bars across her eyes, her chest and her groin, when publishing a decidedly damning article which was written, oddly, by a food critic. Mann’s daughter, Virginia, wrote a letter, in return, saying simply: ”DEAR SIR, I DON’T LIKE THE WAY YOU CROSSED ME OUT. “I WILL BE 6 ON FRIDAY” Keeping in mind that there is less nudity in the photograph taken by Lillian than in the Coppertone billboards that used to populate the entire USA from the 1950s on - featuring a little blonde girl with pigtails, wearing the bottom half of a swimsuit, and a puppy pulling that down – the reaction to the photograph in question might seem questionable, but there is also a story behind the photograph that triggers the headline ”Judge Rules . . . MOMMY IS Sick” in a pre-Roe v Wade era. The politics of public opinion, and the unequal opportunities afforded women are focused on in a more obvious way, but underlying this is a story of love and passion, a love and passion for doing what we love and loving what we do, what brings us joy, shapes our lives. How those we love can build us up, or bend us and sometimes even break us, and how to rebuild that which has been bent and broken. The bond between mothers and daughters that is sometimes frayed beyond measure, but is always a part of who we become. Lovely, if sometimes heartbreaking, I loved this story, fell completely under its spell, and highly recommend it. I’m pretty sure I left a piece of my heart in the last pages. Many thanks for the ARC provided by Scribner
This book is brilliant and at times heartbreaking. It takes the reader on a moving story of struggle and creativity. It explores the life and work of a skillful, motivated and scandalous woman who roused both admiration and disgruntlement in her closest friends and acquaintances. I loved this story and I highly recommend it. My thanks to Netgalley, the publisher and the author for an advance copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.