An engrossing read…Entertaining, poignant, and meaningful.
After facing a life-altering event, a budding artist escapes to a small-town life to raise her daughter born out of wedlock and navigates inspiration and redemption in Bensley’s poignant novel. Liza Baker, a rising star in the burgeoning Abstract Expressionist era, leaves everything behind to raise her daughter Rouge singlehandedly after she unexpectedly gets pregnant. She takes a job teaching at a college, but her failed dream of making it big in the art leaves her restless. When Rouge meets Ben Fuller, one of Liza’s discarded lovers, the teen finds a new passion in photography. Feeling threatened, Lisa takes an unexpected step, sabotaging her already struggling relationship with her daughter. It’s a moving tale, starting with Lisa’s navigation of the 1950’s art world, continuing through her struggles as she tries to find a balance between her art and parental terrors, Ben’s entry, and Rouge’s emotional maelstrom. There are also shared moments of wonder and joy for a mother and daughter attuned to art and quietness of small-town and each other. Lisa has a vibrant presence. She’s no saint, just a full-throated, flesh-and-blood woman who redefines independence and her own self while embracing motherhood. She recognizes her need to stay connected to art, her ongoing struggle between her dream of making it big in the art world that she abandoned and the responsibility of Rouge, and Rouge’s unreconciled feelings for Ben. Rouge, with her turmoil, sensitivity, and passion comes alive on the pages. Reserved, intellectual, and steady Ben, though doesn’t get much space in the story but makes his presence known anyways. Bensley demonstrates that she knows as much about art and photography as she seems to know about intricacies of familial relationships: she is particularly adept at developing the characters through subtle but significant details. Rouge and Ben’s relationship unfolds slowly, and the letters they exchange are pivotal to their connection. Timelines alternating among the past and present, both recent and long ago, add tension and depth to a multifaceted narrative that touches on the gender inequalities in the art world of the era and how the patriarchy shaped women artists’ lives in the 1950s. At the same time, Bensley writes about the intricacies of motherhood and adolescent drama with a soft touch that feels natural and easygoing. Beautifully written and carefully crafted, this profound meditation on familial relationships, individual angst, independence, motherhood, personal dreams, and sacrifice makes for a must-read.
By Lis Bensley
Pub date June 28, 2021
Price $13.83 (USD) Paperback, $5.35 Kindle edition