cover image Van Gogh's Bad Cafe: A Love Story

Van Gogh's Bad Cafe: A Love Story

Frederic Tuten / Author William Morrow & Company $20 (192p) IS

A magical painter in words, Tuten (Tintin in the New World) gets inside the Dutch artist's wounded soul as few writers have. In this exquisite postmodernist fantasy, Ursula, a mercurial, morphine-addicted 19-year-old photographer who is Vincent van Gogh's lover, shuttles back and forth between 19th-century France and present-day New York City. In the East Village, she becomes the roommate and occasional lover of Louis, a down-and-out photographer. Back in time, meanwhile, Tuten's van Gogh is a gaunt, pipe-smoking, half-drunk misfit in a world out of joint, raging with jealousy at other artists. Lonely beyond words and even beyond his own pictures, he seeks a world purged of pain and suffering, so that love and beauty can reign on Earth. Ursula, too, is enthralled by beauty, and seeks to capture it with her camera lens. But in leaving behind the Old World, she experiences dizzying culture shock. To share the burden, Louis agrees to travel back in time, where he drinks and arm-wrestles with the tortured painter. Tuten is a remarkable stylist, able in one sentence to combine the lyricism of a parable with the grit of Avenue B: ""I was ready, already, to live with her and share the common dish, to make children--should she want--and bring home the bacon, if need be... or to become a pair of companionate hawks in our iron love nest atop the Brooklyn Bridge."" Is Ursula just an obsessed 1990s street kid inspiring Louis to fantasize? It's anyone's guess as Tuten gorgeously explores the interface of reality and illusion, art and life, love and death. Illustrated with original color and black-and-white prints by Eric Fischl (not seen by PW). (Mar.)