The Wall Street Journal reviews Jill Bialosky’s The Prize

The Wall Street Journal reviews Jill Bialosky’s The Prize

The Wall Street Journal reviews Jill Bialosky‘s book The Prize: A Novel. The Fiction Chronicle says, “…the portrayal of an art world torn between crass commercialism and genuine expression is grippingly achieved.”

 

December 4, 2015

Fiction Chronicle: A Tender and Mournful Homage

For Edward Darby, the Manhattan art dealer at the center of Jill Bialosky’s “The Prize” (Counterpoint, 349 pages, $25), the most difficult and involving relationships are with the artists he represents. His job is to support them, encourage them, soothe their neuroses and placate their egos, but also to challenge them to create their best work. “Being a gallerist was a delicate dance, to know how much to push and hold back in service to the work, to find a shared sensibility that perfectly meshed.”

Edward’s marriage is drab in comparison to the intensity of his bond with a brilliant painter named Agnes Murray, whom he’s helped elevate to international renown. But when he offers some gentle critiques of her newest work, Agnes drops him for a less discriminating and more market-savvy dealer. Readers of “The Prize” will be put in mind of Michael Cunningham’s 2010 novel “By Nightfall,” not only because of the similar subject matter — a New York gallerist in the throes of a midlife crisis — but because of the single-minded devotion to aesthetic beauty. Edward seeks it in art, in luxury items (he buys a lot of cashmere when he’s feeling low) and in a passionate affair with a sculptor named Julia.

If the affair is uninteresting — the lovers send each other notes inside a volume of Keats and say things like “Since London I can’t stop thinking about you” — the portrayal of an art world torn between crass commercialism and genuine expression is grippingly achieved. Ms. Bialosky is a book editor as well as a writer, and she knows something about the agonies and rewards of cajoling great work from basket-case artists. And when she describes the effect of paintings upon the senses (simply viewing Pierre Bonnard’s “Le Petit Déjeuner,” “full of light and mystery,” causes the stress to drain from Edward’s body), her own writing harnesses the agility and beauty the book so rapturously exalts.