cover image Vanitas


Joseph Olshan. Simon & Schuster, $23 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-684-83396-5

Love triangles and mirror images, AIDS, art and deception color this provocative but ultimately unconvincing tale of a bisexual man's need for family in a world where the old archetypes no longer seem to fit. When renowned New York art dealer Elliot Garland, dying of AIDS, hires freelance journalist Sam Solomon to ghostwrite his memoirs, Sam finds himself an unwitting pawn in an emotional chess game between ex-lovers. Under the pretext of book research, Garland sends Sam to London to meet Bobby LaCour, Garland's lost love, and take him a portrait, an erotic drawing (the eponymous Vanitas) that Sam had coveted when he saw it hanging in Garland's apartment. Even as Sam and Bobby fall in love, Sam lives with his ex-girlfriend--now dating a married man--and is drawn to her and her daughter, and to the notion of family and fatherhood. Olshan (Clara's Heart) sheds some light on what it means to falsify history, reorganize the family and even glamorize risk and death. But a teasing, incremental narrative, contrived plotting and overdone symbolism give too much of the gloss of commercial fiction, and the question of whodunit ends up trumping the more serious themes raised. (July)