978-0-684-83945-5 / 9780684839455

Spending: A Utopian Divertimento





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About the book:

Monica Szabo has, if not everything, rather more than many divorced women in their early 50s can claim. A New York artist with enough talent, success, and money to live on, she also has two interesting college-age daughters and an intellectually distinguished, morally heroic, and infinitely flexible male companion, Mikey. The only problem is, Mikey is a dog. Entrancing a gallery crowd in Provincetown, Monica conducts a whimsical outreach for her mutt's human counterpart. Male artists have long had their muses, she poses, but female artists have no such equivalent. "Where, I ask you, lovers of the arts, where are the male Muses?" Much to her surprise, a looker of the right age and sexual predilections offers himself up to her in front of her adoring audience. And this paragon of patronage not only lives up to her large-scale demands--advancing when she calls, retreating on command, taking her to places she's never been (in both senses of the phrase)--but he's really rich to boot.

Yet Spending proves more than a Harlequin romance for the intelligentsia. Gordon gives her heroine a strong, self-amused voice and a fine mind, and B (as the lover is called throughout) gives her the space, time, money, sex, croissants, and property she needs to prosper. Did I mention that B also becomes the model for Monica's newest body of work? "I sat in front of him, drawing with a kind of fever. He never woke up. I knew what I wanted to do: a series of paintings of post-orgasmic men based on the great Italian Renaissance portraits of dead Christs. I even knew what I'd call the series: SPENT MEN, AFTER THE MASTERS."

Monica worries incessantly about her new spot of luck--engaging, for example, in a super-sophisticated conversation with one daughter about whether or not B is turning her into a whore. "If you call yourself a sex worker," Rachel poses, "you don't have to get freaked out." Needless to say, this isn't much of a consolation. Though it advertises itself as highbrow erotica, Spending is at its best in scenes between females, and in those in which we see art through Monica's eyes. A Piero della Francesca is one of her favourites "because of the egg hanging over the virgin's head ... I envied painters who operated out of a symbolic universe because it gave them an excuse to put in such wonderful, yet nutty objects: who would think of hanging an egg from a ceiling when you're painting something high class and serious like a heavenly court? But say it's a symbol of the Resurrection, and you get the fun of painting the shape and the texture, and you get narrative to boot." B, it turns out, is Spending's problem--he's far too perfect, even after he loses $4 million. (Reader, don't get too worried. There's easy money waiting in the wings.) In her acknowledgements, Gordon admits that the commodities market was an unknown entity to her, and when B is onstage it's important to keep the subtitle, A Utopian Divertimento, in mind.

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