Book Review & Book Club Discussion ~ The Great Man by Kate Christensen

The Great Man by the Pen/Faulkner Award Winning author Kate Christensen was the July/August Planet Books reading club selection.  It is the story of one man, deceased, and the amazing, complicated and loving women he surrounded himself with in life.  Oscar Feldman was a “renowned figurative painter” who led multiple lives.  One as a husband, another as a lover and a third as the famous painter who seduced his models with his hands and his paint brush. 

“Oscar, Oscar, Oscar,” said Maxine.  “Look at us, four smart old bags with plenty to think about, fixated on my putz of a brother, who’s been dead for five years and wasn’t especially nice to any of us.”

At first glance I wasn’t really enjoying this book but once I got to know the women in Oscar’s life, I was intrigued by the idea of forgiveness and tolerance that his wife, lover and even sister had for this unlikeable man who was nothing but a selfish painter who bucked the system on all levels.  As I finally got over the hump and got into the book, I discovered that the characters where written so well that I felt they may be real people and that this was actually a biography of Oscar Feldman but in reality it is the event of two biographies being written about the painter that brings Abigail (wife), Teddy (the mistress), Lila (Teddy’s best friend),  Maxine (sister), and numerous secondary characters together.  In their golden years, these women dredge up the past as they tell not one but two individual biographers about their lives with Oscar.  They discuss his work and I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed the detailed descriptions of his approach to painting and the paintings themselves. 

We meet Teddy first.  The woman who Oscar carried on a forty plus year affair with that produced twin daughters.  She at first is rough around the edges but once I got past some personal dislike for the writing style in the book, I was able to submerge myself into the New York City boroughs where the characters live and listen to their stories.  At one point I felt that I related to Teddy the most out of all the female characters Christensen created.  She is strong but was in total love with Oscar and supported him the best she could though she was never able to do so as the official women in Oscar’s life.  Since Oscar’s death five years before this book begins, Teddy has moved from the large house she shared with Oscar and raised their daughters in to a small apartment that with time got away from her.  Things piled up and the idea of taking care of business overwhelms in her old age.  Two biographers have started calling to do research on the famous portrait artist, Oscar Feldman and Teddy finds herself entertaining both men over lunches at her residence and telling stories of life with Oscar, on the inside and on the outside. 

The same goes for Maxine Fledman, Oscar’s sister and a successful painter in her own right but part of the abstract art world.  She is a bitter old lesbian with many regrets and leftover feelings for two women in her life.  Her ex-lover from thirty years ago and her present day assistant.  Christensen wrote all the characters very well but Maxine was especially memorable.  A perfectly described lesbian, full of masculinity and lust.  Maxine was a tough woman with an even tougher personality that hid the tenderness and vulnerability at her core.  The relationships she has with Teddy and Oscar’s widow, Abigail are very different.  Maxine never cared for Teddy and always looked down on her for accepting the role of Oscar’s mistress.  She doesn’t acknowledge Teddy and Oscar’s twin daughters, her nieces, but does steal quick glances of Ruby who happens to take her dog to the same dog park that Maxine frequents with her faithful companion, Frago. 

Abigail was Oscar’s life long best friend and wife who cared for their autistic son Ethan.  The relationship between mother and son drove Oscar to jealousy because it was Abigail’s attention he desired so to spite Ethan he would just ignore the boy when he actually spent time with his first family.  Abigail is a lovely but timid character.  At first I didn’t think much of her myself but I soon realized that she was able to tolerate the situation that had entered her life instead of interrupt the smooth waters that had become her life. 

I asked my friend Nicole what her favorite points of the book were and I have to agree with what she said.  “I thought it was neat to get each woman’s perspective and that they were told as parts of the book.  It was the first time I read the first person perspective from such an older character and I felt that Kate Christensen did a really wonderful job with this book.  Also, I thought it was interesting that after hearing the story being told through Teddy, Maxine and then Teddy’s eyes to end the book from the perspective of a complete outsider looking in and observing Oscar’s women.  Henry, one of the two biographers who began to suffer form the same weaknesses that plagued the ‘great man’ himself.  One last thing I really enjoyed about The Great Man was how Christensen compared her analysis between cooking and painting.”  (You can listen to an interview with Kate Christensen on NPR HERE.  She shares the fact that she actually tried the recipes she described in her book and that they were pretty good.)

As the story moves along the interviews between biographers and women creates a fear in Maxine that a huge secret may be unveiled.  It is a major twist and with it the book took off and I finished it rather quickly.  The Great Man surprised me after all and I enjoyed it after all.  It gave great insight into the world of painters and the stresses they face in their line of work.  Insecurities that plague them just like any professional. 

What did you think of the book?  Were you able to enjoy it?  Which woman was your favorite, least favorite?


15 thoughts on “Book Review & Book Club Discussion ~ The Great Man by Kate Christensen

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  2. I have to admit, The Great Man is not a book I would ever have chosen of my own accord. But I’m glad I read it, because, like many others, I came to enjoy it as the story progressed. I truly came to appreciate Christensen’s ability to narrate the perspectives of these older women, which we don’t often hear about in mainstream society. The thoughts, feelings, sexual habits and personal relationships of older women isn’t something many people spend time on, and while I wouldn’t have chosen to navigate those stories either, I’m grateful Christensen brought them to me in such a well-written novel.

    Of all the characters, I enjoyed Maxine the most. I admired her commitment to art and especially enjoyed Christensen’s long passages on the complicated sibling rivalry between Oscar and Maxine and how that rivalry paralleled debates in the art community. Christensen made the deft point of linking the complicated world of art with the complicated world of interpersonal relationships. We often scoff at what we can’t or won’t understand. And we focus on who gets credit, who works harder, who deserves more…both in art and love.

  3. This book simply did nothing for me. If you want a fun story and a quick read, read the book. Although entitled The Great Man, it is the story of the women in this so-called great man’s life. But if you are looking for something with some complex character development or plot lines, don’t bother. The art world atmosphere is interesting, the pacing is quick, but there is nothing here that grabbed me. I found the writing to be uninspired, and the similes annoyingly fatuous-the phone Maxine throws across the room “lay still among the brushes like a dead beetle” (223). After drinking a bottle of beer, one of Oscar’s daughters said something with “beery enthusiasm” (259). Don’t get me wrong-I love novels about women-Anna Karenina, Sister Carrie, The Portrait of a Lady, Madame Bovary-these are some of my favorites. I tend to like more depth in a novel than this one provides, something that forces me to think a bit about what I am reading. If you feel the same way, I wouldn’t waste my time reading this one. I had to read it for a book club I am in. I am glad I took it out of the library and didn’t spend the money to buy it. Please note-page references to quoted material are to the hardback edition published by Doubleday in 2007.

  4. 地平線の最初のポス??ト

    、モンクレール サイズ私たちは前に集合的な寮を彼女をキャッチしたときに新入生寮ので、ショルダーバッグ レディースそれの片側を差し込み、その非常に激しい戦い、私たちは本当に彼女の王女の病気を我慢できないので、ランニングシューズ

  5. 私はそうしていないことを知っていない、ためらった。

    数日の結婚式、李Shiguangが突然姿を消し、アグ ムートンブーツ電話オフ、誰も家の前に。私は特に、C市で彼のモーター車の会社に座って、同僚は、彼が結婚は行っ置くことを私に言った。私はそれが今よりも必死だったが、それは、アグ 激安結婚式の日、彼は突然、ただ一般的には天国のように戻ってきた。

    私は彼を助けることが尋ねることができなかった後、シャネル 化粧品彼は彼が婚前検査を行うことを告げ、小さな病院の医師は、彼最初の手術なので、彼がするまで、数日間退廃的なものと考えていることを示唆し、彼はその点で問題を抱えていたと述べ

    その時、アグ ブーツ私は本当に信じて、まだ彼の愚かで笑う、この事はとても終わった。ここ数日間行方不明になったと考えることができ、それは本当にこれが女性と一緒に呂と呼ばれているかは重要ではありません?私は信じていません。

  6. お互いが阻害されていないあなたのとりとめを責め、自分を責めるようにしっかりとしがみついて、すべてのシャドウです。

    ミス東の歌詞として、あなたは野生の馬であり、私の家族には草原がありませんでした。私はいつも、多分あなたは男と恋に本当にわからないと疑っている。この世界では、常にあなたの変装の皆のため、除外されます。モンクレール 偽物 、シニカル反抗的なので、持っていないことができます。


    PubMedのは、ルイヴィトン ショルダーバッグ北朝鮮の大学は、第二の心臓鼓動がある場合には報告されて知っている、私はあなたに耐えることができなかった。チー呂地平線それの後わずか数ヶ月。その後、あなたは私を考え、そして時折思う、確かにだけ荒涼と笑顔に支払われません。

    私は、祈りの中でとてもわがままあなたが怒ってプレイしてもよい、サイレント喜び、少なくともあなたが見ることができる、それはあなたの心に入っていなくても、私と一緒に滞在することができますので、あなたが試験に失敗しております。 。 。

    あなたは私の心の話を聞くことができれば、ニューバランス スニーカー

    悲しいかな。 。 。 。




  7. それを開始した。

    ガールフレンドの食事tucaoで、細部への彼の地雷によって、接続されています。ガールフレンドはあまり慣れていることでしょう、彼は少し緊張していたので、アグ 激安物事のほんのロットが忘れられて、その後、どこでも参照してくださいと言う。

    私たちは、彼が映画を見て周り、週末に到着した。呂朱はあなたが過去に自分で準備、Luzhuはどんな希望を保持していない、ニューバランス 店舗男の子シャトルとデート女の子が必要であることを先に述べたが、前の2つの性能を与えられた。

    迅速な出発、彼が呼ばれると言った、あなたは、私は確信しているどこにするときは、シャネル 指輪最後のピックで行く瞬間、私はノーと言った、私は映画を見に、外出しようとしていた。彼があなたを拾うのを待って、出てこない、と述べた。

    呂朱は突然、アグ 激安ああ、クルミはあなたを啓発し、感じた?本当に彼を誤解する前に。


  8. 3は、最終的になくなって、彼女が原因お金の事でその日ひざまずい。実際、私の夫は彼女を手放すことを望んでいない、エアマックス1したがって、その後3が戻って彼女にお金を引き出すだけにして、私の夫がないとひざまずいてきた、在庫からお金を引き出すことを拒否した。アバクロ

    彼女は、私の夫は私に話に難色を示してきた後に、彼女は私が彼女を離れることを余儀なくされたと思った。彼は三人が彼に成功したキャリアを助けることができる、モンクレール サイズ一緒に努力すると思った。彼の妻として、私は枢機卿である必要があり、目がもう少し見える。しかし、私は、私は素晴らしいアイデアではないですができません。

    時には、私も非常にさえも、シャネル チェーンバッグ深く彼を投票するためにあえて、彼女がそのように移動されたため、当初は、現在の妾に無料で鶏肉は、本当にしたいときと言ったから、私は、彼女の夫の魚を愛し、これらの3つを賞賛彼の妻として彼女を取った。

  9. 愚かな女の子、あなたはこの傾向が続くにつれて、ニューバランス 店舗あなたは非常に危険です、シャネル 時計結婚、また愛を理解していない。シャネル 化粧品あなたは、手の中に機会を活用しない何をすべきかを知らないと何をするわけではないので.シャネル チェーンバッグ…..エアマックス95

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