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The Great Man [Paperback]

Kate Christensen
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

May 13 2008
Winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction

Oscar Feldman, the renowned figurative painter, has passed away. As his obituary notes, Oscar is survived by his wife, Abigail, their son, Ethan, and his sister, the well-known abstract painter Maxine Feldman. What the obituary does not note, however, is that Oscar is also survived by his longtime mistress, Teddy St. Cloud, and their daughters.

As two biographers interview the women in an attempt to set the record straight, the open secret of his affair reaches a boiling point and a devastating skeleton threatens to come to light. From the acclaimed author of The Epicure's Lament, a scintillating novel of secrets, love, and legacy in the New York art world.

 


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Review

The Great Man is as unexpectedly generous as it is entertaining. . . . Wise and expansive. . . . Christensen is a witty observer of the art universe.” —The New York Times “Christensen's writing is clear-eyed, muscular, bitingly funny, and supremely caustic about the niceties of social relations, contemporary American culture, and sexual politics.” —O, The Oprah Magazine “These characters are wonderfully developed and break the stereotype of the aging female protagonist. Christensen . . . boldly has raised the bar.” —USA Today "Nimble, witty and discerning, Kate Christensen is single-handedly reinvigorating the comedy of manners with her smart and disemboweling novels of misanthropes, cultural and aesthetic divides, private angst, social ambition and appetites run amok." —Chicago Tribune

About the Author

Kate Christensen is also the author of the novels In the Drink, Jeremy Thrane, and The Epicure's Lament. Her essays and articles have appeared in various publications including Salon, Mademoiselle, The Hartford Courant, Elle, and the best-selling anthology The Bitch in the House. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband.

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5.0 out of 5 stars Portrait of an Artist... Nov. 17 2008
Format:Paperback
When an influential figure painter, Oscar Feldman, dies suddenly, he is eulogized and his obituary describes him as a man who left behind a wife of many years, a son, and his sister, Maxine Feldman, also a painter.

But what the obituary leaves out, and what two men, designated biographers, discover, is much more.

On the other side of the city, a woman, Teddy St.Cloud, who was his mistress for many years, and the mother of two daughters, has her own story to tell.

As the biographers descend, separately, interviewing the principals in the story, as well as a cast of characters that include the two daughters, a completely different picture emerges.

In uncovering the "true" story behind the legend, the biographers also unearth a long buried secret that has the potential to totally dethrone the famous man.

In the end, the facts are presented, albeit with completely different perspectives by the two writers, and a more balanced picture of the great man is born.

A compelling story, The Great Man, as told by Ms. Christensen, reminds us that nothing is ever as it seems.

By Laurel-Rain Snow, Author of "Miles to Go", etc.
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  32 reviews
30 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A REMARKABLE NOVEL - RICH WITH WIT AND KEEN OBSERVATIONS June 24 2008
By Gail Cooke - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
A cursory glance at the title indicates that this is a book about a man. It is, and it isn't. Of course, the man of the title, Oscar Feldman, rather the late Oscar Feldman, a figurative painter, plays a role. But the starring parts are given to three women, Teddy, his mistress; Abigail Feldman, his widow; and Maxine Feldman, his sister. Each is being interviewed by two biographers who hope to tell Oscar's true story.

According to his obituary, Oscar died at the age of 78 after a prodigious career, which was totally devoted to the painting of female nudes. He remained apart from others in the artistic world, and once wrote, "The female body is the ultimate expression of truth and beauty..." His works were characterized by bold brush strokes, and came to be highly collectible.

After reading this, one can easily see why two biographers, Henry Burke and Ralph Washington, were intrigued, determined to find out the truth about Oscar Feldman. What better place to start than with his mistress, Teddy?
Now 70-some she is still an attractive woman, angular with chin length white hair and a ready wit. She's a bit of a tease and gives her friend, Lila, a start when she admits "I wouldn't mind seeing my old carcass in bed with a nubile forty-year-old body." She's come to terms with who she is now and what her life has been. She gave birth to Oscar's twin daughters, Ruby and Samantha, and basically raised them alone. Yet, she loved Oscar, enjoyed tweaking him in front of a gathering so he would show off. She adored him...did she also manipulate him? She seems to have had the upper hand when she says that she could share him but he could not share her.

Maxine is quite a different story. She, too, is an artist yet never received the acclaim that her brother did. She is an unhappy woman, who lives with her dog, Frago, and her assistant, Katerina. Not at all comfortable with who she is, Maxine wears thick glasses and thinks she looks like an "ugly dwarf like toad." She detested the thought of anyone writing a biography of Oscar......unless they might shed some light her way. Maxine fears she will die alone and forgotten; she longs for a much closer relationship with her years younger assistant.

Abigail, whom Teddy called "Oscar's fat wife" was the favored daughter of a multimillionaire furrier. The apartment she and Oscar shared, a gift from her father, was on 84th and Riverside. She knew her husband little, assuming he would give up the silly notion of being an artist and go into business with his father. What she did know was Teddy; she saw her at Oscar's openings. Of course, she was also extremely jealous but also curious. Now that Oscar was gone she ordered almost everything she wanted or needed via the Internet so that she rarely left the apartment and her autistic son, Ethan.

Christensen is such a skillful author that she leads readers along, tantalizes them with lively, astute prose until an important secret is revealed and the three women come together to decide what is to be done, what is to be told and what is not.

The Great Man won the Pen/Faulkner Award - deservedly so. It is a remarkable novel, rich with wit, keen observations, and characters we'll not soon forget.

- Gail Cooke
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't Put this book down Oct. 4 2008
By E. K. Johnson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The style of this novel is very unique and hooks you from the start. I couldn't put it down. The four women who loved this (not-so) great man are so sensitively crafted by the author that you both, at once, admire them and question their devotion to such a hollow person as Oscar. The book also asks some important questions, such as what constitutes "great" art, who gets to decide, what role do women play in the art world, and how are we, as viewers, implicated in the social construction of the artistic genius.

Additionally, the inclusion of the two men writing separate biographies of the great man add tremendously to the story. The obituary and the two reviews at the end act as book ends to the story and add to its unique style. Bravo Ms. Christenson.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great exposure of art world and psychology of people involved. Sept. 18 2008
By Dmitri Priimak - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Great idea for a book. The famous painter dies and his close lovers, admirers and daughters come in together due to the fact that at least two biographers are on the prowl. All this results in digging out well buried emotions and past deeds to light of the day. That is the basic plot, but what sets this novel apart is very direct and concise use of English. The author appears almost transparent, as she does not add un-plausible elements to enhance the prose. Personages in the book, mostly woman, seem to come to life, not in details of environment, but in their psychological exposure by the author. None appear flat and unremarkable, or one sided on good vs. bad scale and yet very different. One notable achievement of the book is how well mental states of participants of social interactions are shown. We are given a glimpse of how woman pick up non verbal cues and judge their partners. This is all done without any hint of author trying to be cute, which would have reduced it to a typical chick lit.
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Engaging start; poor follow through Aug. 4 2008
By A. M. Hopkins - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
After reading several sterling reviews and hearing about Christensen's Pen Faulkner Award, I was expecting a stronger dose of good reading. The first few chapters were engaging, offered intriguing characters and seemed headed in a promising direction. After some impressive build up, the story took a disappointing shortcut to a pretty lame denoument. Ms. Christensen's writing is vivid but her imagination for the sexuality of "older" women is uninsightful at best. What a wasted opportunity to tell a really captivating tale! She will understand this some day.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Extremely well-written Jan. 7 2009
By Amy Steele - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Fabulous read about an artist as told, after his death, from the viewpoint of four women: his wife, his lover, the lover's best friend and his sister, also an artist. The women are all in their late 60s and early 70s and they have vastly different memories and relationships with this man and with each other. When two biographers come around to interview the women it forces them to speak to each other and for a long-standing secret to be revealed. Masterful writing by Christensen.
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