cover image Four Figures in Time

Four Figures in Time

Patricia Grossman. Calyx Books, $25.95 (252pp) ISBN 978-0-934971-48-5

Grossman (Inventions in a Grieving House) natters on interminably about Art and Life in this debut novel. The four figures of the title are all connected to Rensler, a New York City art school. Sonya is a sculptor whose married, longtime lover (another artist) died recently. Claire is a student from New Jersey whose paintings are heavily influenced by out-of-style impressionism. Danny, another student, creates faux Mexican retablos. Otis, president of Rensler, has been going through a particularly tough time since he found out that his estranged wife has breast cancer--although it's unclear whether he is upset because she is sick or merely because she is no longer around to handle the domestic details of his life. The four are self-involved to such a numbing degree that they become intolerable and the story isn't helped by Grossman's tendency to haul out every known cliche about artists. When Claire begins an affair with another female student, it is certain to end badly, if only because Melina is from a wealthy family in Greenwich, Conn. Danny drops out to visit Mexico in search of further inspiration, then returns to New York. Meanwhile, every tiny move is an artistic statement (``she thought of Mrs. Fine, ascending like a Chagall figure in a chintz housedress''). Although the novel is often quite sophisticated schematically, with the various stories intersecting and touching on the same facts, there is no making up for the fact that these artists at work are just plain dull. (Nov.)