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Pickle Me This

November 25, 2007

The Great Man by Kate Christensen

In my limited experience of Kate Christensen, I have found that she doesn’t conform well. Her novels aren’t easily classifiable, and they don’t have ulterior motives. She seems to me a writer who writes for the sake of her books. Who invests her fiction with the same humour and intelligence one might find within a life. Last month I read her first novel In the Drink, and I’ve just finished her latest The Great Man. Christensen started off promising, and now she is very good, and it’s just like Maud Newton says: she deserves to be better known.

The Great Man in question is Oscar Feldman, five years dead. A famous painter of the female nude, lately two biographers have been poking into his life story, stirring up trouble amongst the women Oscar surrounded himself with. His loyal wife Abigail, his mistress Teddy, his cantankerous sister Maxine (also a painter) and his daughters are forced to confront the legacy of this man whose presence had so overwhelmed their lives and continues to even after his death. Oscar’s “greatness” is re-evaluated after a fashion, and the women reconcile (as best they can) their feelings for each other.

Kate Christensen reminds me of Laurie Colwin, which not a lot of writers manage. Both writers redefining what “greatness” is– namely that it can feature that rare combination of humour and intelligence. With complicated and interesting female characters who have bodies, and jobs, and friends. With male characters in their lives who are just as interesting, and a story that does not rely on convention. An eye for the right details, to create a scene in all its vividness. There is joy here, and there’s goodness, and the whole wide world, which is certainly something for a book.

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