12 August 2008

The Brutal Art (Jesse Kellerman)

Available at all good bookstores, courtesy of Penguin Books South Africa

The product of best-selling bookstore stalwarts, Faye and Jonathan Kellerman, Jesse Kellerman (or one of his large brood of siblings, in fairness) was bound to be a writer. What's surprising is that he's pretty good.

It's taken two books, in my opinion, to warm him up for this truly superb third novel, The Brutal Art: a richly peopled, thoughtfully plotted, elaborately sketched story that is as free of genre-imposed formulae and inoffensive orthodox Jewish caricature as his parents' popular offerings are famous for.

Oh, Ethan - how we root for you!
New York art gallery owner Ethan Muller uncovers a cache of brilliant but disturbing drawings by a mysterious artist who has since vanished. And before long, old secrets about Ethan's own family begin to hack away at the fictions carefully constructed by those who want the ugly past to remain safely tucked away.

To be frank, The Brutal Art has two features I usually decry: the use of first-person singular ('I') and random flashbacks. But in this manifestation, both are so matter-of-fact, clean, clear and free of not-so-subtle author's guile that they work - all the while leading the reader towards the delicious brown-paper-wrapped gift that is eventual understanding.

Nicely done, Jesse.


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