Monday, September 7, 2020

Feast Your Eyes - Myla Goldberg

Summary: The first novel in nearly a decade from Myla Goldberg, the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of Bee Season—a compelling and wholly original story about a female photographer grappling with ambition and motherhooda balancing act familiar to women of every generation.

Feast Your Eyes, framed as the catalogue notes from a photography show at the Museum of Modern Art, tells the life story of Lillian Preston: “America’s Worst Mother, America’s Bravest Mother, America’s Worst Photographer, or America’s Greatest Photographer, depending on who was talking.” After discovering photography as a teenager through her high school’s photo club, Lillian rejects her parents’ expectations of college and marriage and moves to New York City in 1955. When a small gallery exhibits partially nude photographs of Lillian and her daughter Samantha, Lillian is arrested, thrust into the national spotlight, and targeted with an obscenity charge. Mother and daughter’s sudden notoriety changes the course of both of their lives and especially Lillian’s career as she continues a life-long quest for artistic legitimacy and recognition.

Narrated by Samantha, Feast Your Eyes reads as a collection of Samantha’s memories, interviews with Lillian’s friends and lovers, and excerpts from Lillian’s journals and letters—a collage of stories and impressions, together amounting to an astounding portrait of a mother and an artist dedicated, above all, to a vision of beauty, truth, and authenticity. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review:  Are you one of those people who goes to an art gallery and reads every single thing? You know how there’s those little signs below each picture with their description, and then if all the work is from one artist they’ll have pictures and stories and history…this book is like that. Like one very large and extensive gallery of a photographer’s works. I have to say I didn’t hate it. Although I want to be one of those people who reads every single thing in a room like that, I’m usually not. There are exceptions, but overall I was a little worried when I started reading this book that I would be turned off by this kind of writing. It turns out I found it refreshing and well-organized (you know I love a well-organized story).

So here’s how the book is divided—there are chapters that are large, and they are devoted to a time period in the photographer’s life. Within those chapters are the title and description of the photos, with the daughter being the narrator and main storyteller. There are interspersed journal entries from the photographer, and letters from friends. Overall, I was surprised how quickly it kept the story moving. I was worried that I would never know what was going on, which is something I think nobody likes (although sometimes a very confusing book will come along and again I’m convinced that maybe some people really do like being confused). Goldberg is a masterful storyteller. She obviously had a great command of what she was doing. I think a lesser experienced and less talented author would have gotten lost. There was just so much going on. The title of the picture with the description went a long way to describe what the photographer’s style was, what she was like as a person, and what the story is. I am fascinated by the idea that although there is not actually one photo in the entire book, I feel like I have a good grasp of what the photos would look like, and indeed I feel like I’ve been to this gallery. Seriously, it’s very impressive. This is not just a story told in simple story form. Goldberg has a masterful ability to help you wrap your head around all the things going on and still keep her readers engaged and following. Kudos to Goldberg for being the kind of author who not only pulled this off, but made it work in a most spectacular fashion.

As one would expect from an author who was able to tackle this sort of writing, the story was also very complex. Lillian Preston is a very complicated person and she is living in a very complicated time in history. She starts out with her photography in the fifties, which is obviously not a time well-known for women being able to launch a career. The story ends in the late seventies where obviously things have changed, but there is still a lot of turmoil and it is still not conventional for a single mother to be a professional artist. At the root of it, although this is a story of a photographer, it is really the story of a woman who is navigating the choices she has (and possibly doesn’t have) in regards to her body and having children, her workspace, being able to do what she loves and feels driven to, and carving a place for herself in society. Although things were very different back then, these choices are ones that women are still facing today, and I found it to be a very interesting discussion on many women’s issues with the backdrop of a very interesting story.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is language and discussion of sex, abortion, same-gender relationships, and debilitating disease. I didn’t find it to be seriously offensive, but it is not clean.

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