In Life Drawing, her gorgeously written first novel, Robin Black unfolds a fierce, honest, and moving portrait of a woman, and of a couple’s life—the betrayals and intimacies, the needs and regrets, the secrets that sustain love and the ones that threaten to destroy it. Augusta and Owen have moved to the country, and live a quiet, and rather solitary life, Gus as a painter, Owen as a writer.
hey have left behind the city, and its associations to a troubled past, devoting their days to each other and their art. But beneath the surface of this tranquil existence lies the heavy truth of Gus’s past betrayal, an affair that ended, but that quietly haunts Owen, Gus and their marriage. When Alison Hemmings, a beautiful British divorcée, moves in next door, Gus, feeling lonely and isolated, finds herself drawn to Alison, and as their relationship deepens, the lives of the three neighbors become more and more tightly intertwined.
With the arrival of Alison’s daughter Nora, the emotions among them grow so intense that even the slightest misstep has the potential to do irrevocable harm to them all With lyrical precision and taut, suspenseful storytelling, Black steadily draws us deeper into a world filled with joys and darkness, love and sorrows, a world that becomes as real as our own. Life Drawing is a novel as beautiful and unsparing as the human heart.
A special thank you to Random House Publishing Group and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Robin Black’s LIFE DRAWING is one of relationships and betrayal, packed with emotional intensity for a compelling read, with tension mounting throughout.
A novel of complex characters, a middle-aged couple who have been together since their early 20s. Gus a painter (age 47) and Owen (age 51), a writer. Gus had a brief affair, she blames on her distress over Owen’s inability to father children. When the affair ended, she confessed and they recommitted.
The couple have retreated from their former cosmopolitan life in Philadelphia to a rural idyll in a farmhouse, hoping to devote themselves to their work, and create a balance between personal and business. Their martial tension is always lingering from the past.
Soon after a neighbor—Alison moves into a nearby rental. They get along great until Alison’s twenty-something daughter, Nora arrives and becomes enamored with Owen.
With a past, and insecurities which continue to rear its ugly head, causes problems, as she previously had an affair with the father of one of her art students. Pulling away from Owen, Gus spends more and more time with Alison, an aspiring painter whose husband abused her. Then Alison’s violent ex-husband Paul appears which adds to the drama. Gus also starts confiding in Alison about Owen.
Gus, whose own mother died when she was a small child, is jealous of their mother-daughter intimacy. She also senses that Nora, an aspiring writer who admires Owen's books, is a threat.
The couple strive to make sense of their issues of fidelity, guilt, and honesty, as Black dives into the complexities of a marriage—life is not easy and it is messy, painful, and difficult.
I particularly enjoyed the way Black used the emotional turmoil between the different characters, while looking deep into the female friendship, as well as the family dynamics.
As mentioned in the readers’ guide, “How would you describe the condition of Owen’s and Gus’s marriage at the point of Alison’s arrival? What do you think would have happened to them if they’d just gone on living in solitude? Were the resentments bound to bubble up without a third person involved, or did they seem settled into a good life? If there were problems that were bound to come up, what were some warning signs?”
These questions would be ideal for a book club, as there is so much to discuss from different perspectives and the what ifs?
The question would be—can you live with your past and your partner’s past? Is it holding you back from a future? As usual when you are in a relationship, you are so close to it—you unable to take a step back and see it more clearly. As Gus tells her story after Owen has died, the focus is clearer. Whether hating or loving we see the good or bad.
A gripping novel exploring human feelings—rich developed, flawed characters trying to exist in a world of love, jealousy and betrayal— a portrait of two people equally devoted to their marriage and their art.
As in art, drawing from life is far more complex and challenging due to movement and changing of the artist’s point of view. As mentioned by some of the other reviewers, LIFE DRAWING is serious literary fiction, and one those fans will devour for a powerful and compelling debut novel.