Leithauser's sixth novel is the story of Bea Paradiso, a character modeled after the author's late mother-in-law. Early in the story, Bea volunteers to draw portraits of wounded soldiers during World War II. Given the novel's title, one might expect this unique scenario to be the premise of the book, but the few pages devoted to Bea's sketches are overwhelmed by the melodrama that dominates the rest of the story. Much is made of the rivalry between Bea's mother and her aunt Grace, which culminates into a ridiculous argument over a bathing suit malfunction. Then, of course, there is Bea's romantic life; her affections are torn between the glamorous Ronny Olsen and the bookish Henry Vander Akker. However, Henry lures Bea into an empty house leading to a strange and muddied rape scene. Despite this mishap, when Henry is killed in battle, Bea remembers him as a martyr and playfully refers to him as her ""virginity-stealer."" The story then inexplicably skips several years into the future, where Bea is married to Grant, a lawyer who appears out of nowhere in the novel. The second half of the book is largely nostalgic toward the characters of Bea's past-a less-than-appealing undertaking, considering that the endeavors of the first half were abandoned so unceremoniously.
Reviewed on: 11/02/2009 Release date: 11/01/2009 Genre: Fiction