A novel of infidelity and the artwork world on a crowded canvas

By Danielle McLaughlin

Danielle McLaughlin is a notable writer. When reading “Dinosaurs on Other Planets,” their collection of short stories from 2016, it becomes apparent how great the prose is, especially when it comes to describing natural environments. through the quick, seemingly effortless characterizations of their often very complex characters; by the elegant and sometimes devastating economy of the narrative; and McLaughlin’s sure instinct for the form of the short story. It’s exciting to read the work of someone so clearly gifted.

In her new novel, her first, The Art of Falling, we encounter many of these gifts, but here they are not offered with such a sure hand. And when they do make themselves felt, they often seem awash with a tendency to pile up, event after event, as if that were the difference between a short story and a novel – the need for more to happen and more afterwards.

So the plot. Our main character Nessa struggles to come to terms with the infidelity of her husband Philip towards the mother of her daughter’s best friend. and at the same time trying to deal with this newly hostile daughter. In addition, she is showing a gallery show of the work of a long-dead sculptor, Robert Locke, in hopes of drawing new attention to what she sees as his strange genius, most perfectly embodied in the faceless statue of a pregnant woman. She has worked closely with his troubled elderly widow and devoted daughter who are hoping for the show’s success for several reasons – money for her, new fame and glory for him.

Complicating this is the persistent claim by another, less elderly woman (although her age seems variable) that she, and not Locke, was one of the creators of his most famous work; or maybe just helped make it; or inspired it; or maybe it was the model for it. Tired, she keeps reappearing to make one or the other of these claims: at a lecture that Nessa gives in the gallery, with Nessa, then with Locke’s widow and again in the gallery, this time pretending to be a lecturer, and so on. All of this jeopardizes the integrity of the upcoming show.

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