cover image Skyscape


Michael Cadnum, Author Carroll & Graf Publishers $21.95 (308p) ISBN 978-0-7867-0135-3

The conflict between fame and genius is the subject of this ambitious novel, which starts out slowly but builds to a gripping finish even as it completes Cadnum's transition from occult (Saint Peter's Wolf) to mundane terrors. World-famous painter Curtis Newns, feeling persecuted and alone, can no longer create the massive paintings that earned him his reputation. When his masterpiece, Skyscape, is destroyed in a fire, Newns's wife asks psychiatrist Red Patterson to nurse her husband back to sanity. Though Patterson is famous for performing mental-health cures on his own TV show, he sees in Newns a different kind of fame, one that comes from true genius; and Patterson wants a part of it. So he invites Newns to his Mojave Desert hideaway, where the painter can reconnect with his creativity away from the world but under Patterson's total control-and where an attempted murder and attempted suicide only strengthen the psychiatrist's determination to dedicate himself to Newns's recuperation. The novel switches gears a number of times from this point on, confounding expectations and remaining full of surprises. The scenes told from Newns's point of view prove vividly weird, but greater weirdness resides in Patterson. It's his slowly revealed character that is at the novel's center, and although the revelations threaten to oversimplify Cadnum's argument about fame and genius, they make for an arresting climax. (Sept.)