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Valerie Martin's The Unfinished Novel and Other Stories

Short-story collections don't satisfy, as a rule, the cravings that I have for fiction. They're not roomy enough, and they count too heavily upon my ability to fill in, from a few hints, the social background. I don't want to fill in the background; I want to hear what a writer has to tell me about it. Every now and then, someone makes a success of stringing short stories together into something very like a novel, but the achievement is rare and, truth be told, fleeting. It's not uncommon for the chapters in a novel that I like to run longer than any short story. Let's face it: I'm not laconic by nature.

Valerie Martin's new collection, The Unfinished Novel and Other Stories, took me by surprise. What they lack in wallpaper and layering they make up for with French-roast intelligence. From the opening story, "His Blue Period":

He never mentions, perhaps because he doesn't know, a detail I find most salient, which is that his painting actually was better then than it is now. Like so many famous artists, these days Anspach does an excellent imitation of Anspach. He's in control, nothing slips by him, he has spent the last twenty years attending to Anspach's painting, and he has no desire ever to attend to anything else. But when he was young, when he was with Maria, no one, including Anspach, had any idea what an Anspach was.

All the stories here are involve artists of one kind or another, and much of the excitement comes from feeling that one has wandered into a very intelligent - but not bitchy or "personal" - conversation on art and artists. The fame and the value of the work (often quite different things) are always being weighed against the worth of the artist, and the scale is never balanced.

The worth of the artist is, of course, expressed in terms of love. Or is it affection, loving kindness? Consider the musing of the young woman who narrates "Beethoven."  

Continue reading about The Unfinished Novel and Other Stories at Portico.


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I adore your phrase:
"French-roast intelligence".
It is absolutely on the money, as well as perfectly descriptive.

Just popped in, but I had to read this because I share your enthusiasm for this collection. Thank you for writing it up so well.

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