Robin Black's 'Life Drawing' Is Full Of Emotional Realism That'll Keep Readers Turning Pages
Robin Black's Life Drawing (Random House) is a gripping meditation on marriage, betrayal, creativity, and heartache that will have readers absorbed from start to finish. The novel is measured and reflective, yet the characters and their lives are gripping. It's a great read for anyone who appreciates a good story.
The novel focuses on Augusta, or Gus, a middle-aged woman living in the country with her husband Owen. She's a painter, he's a writer, both with modest but successful careers, and they've been together so long that in Gus' mind they have become a unit. The only source of discord in their relationship is an affair Gus had a few years before when the two still lived in the city, but now, in their secluded country home, Gus feels that they have put the whole incident behind them.
When a woman leases the long-empty house next door, however, Gus and Owen's quiet life is disrupted, and issues begin rising to the surface once again. As Owen grapples with writer's block and shuts Gus out, Gus begins confiding in this new neighbor perhaps more than she should, and soon the two households are more intertwined than they perhaps realize.
Life Drawing is a page-turner not because the events in the story are intensely exciting or prolific, but because they are intensely important to the characters themselves, and Black makes the reader feel that. We understand how heavily invested Gus is in her loving relationship with Owen, how devastated she would be if it fell apart. We understand her conflicting feelings about watching her emotionally distant father lose himself to Alzheimer's. We feel how strongly she is drawn to her new neighbor and the idea of having a confidant. Black has written this story so skillfully that Gus' life matters to readers as much as it matters to Gus herself, and so even the mundane problems like getting through a dinner party or making up a guest room feel significant because we understand the weight they hold for Gus.
The novel is full of little touches and quiet observations that make it so real — Gus's musing that "you can't see a landscape you are in," for instance, and Black's truly on-point depictions of the creative process. She is able to explain complexities of a relationship in a single sentence, such as when Gus says of herself and Owen:
We have become by this time a single being, a being that argues with itself from time to time — as a knee may ache, as a tired back refuse to cooperate, so you say Oh, for God's sake could you stop being so difficult; but you are saying to to part of yourself.
This ability to evoke so much about Gus' life is what draws the reader in.
Life Drawing is a phenomenal debut novel, an intensely engaging story that navigates the complexities of love, life, art, and marriage and does to with grace and quiet style. Readers everywhere will find it a treat to experience.
Image: Nina Subin