Arts & Culture » Theater Critic's Choice

Kate Christensen

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The late, celebrated painter Oscar Feldman may be the figure that gives Kate Christensen's latest novel, The Great Man, its name, but it's the women behind him who give the book its power. As two rival biographers compete to lay claim to "the real Oscar"--who has the insatiable appetite for love and life that's a cliche of artistic excess--Christensen unfolds his life story through those who knew him best: his wife Abigail, his boho mistress Teddy, Teddy's best friend Lila, and his gruff, cynical older sister Maxine, an abstract painter and lesbian and possibly the only woman in New York immune to his charms. The plot turns on a long-buried secret that threatens to upend Oscar's legacy, but it's really just a MacGuffin to unleash Christensen's warm, witty portraits of the ladies--it's been ages since I read a book this frankly gynocentric. Secondary characters--the biographers, Teddy's two daughters--get the short end of the stick, but Christensen's four central characters, all of whom are in their 70s and 80s, are lovingly realized, offering brisk, refreshing insights into sex, death, art, aging, and above all forgiveness. Phil LaMarche (American Youth) and Lara Santoro (Mercy) also read at this installment of the Bookslut Reading Series. a Wed 9/12, 7:30 PM, Hopleaf Bar, 5148 N. Clark, 312-850-4277. --Martha Bayne

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