Arthur Nersesian writes New York in a way few can, a regular Hank Moody in the flesh. His prose is sparse at times, raunchy at others, and moody all the way through. Yet it’s never contrived, pretentious, or over-the-top. He’s everything right about NYC sprinkled with something else words can’t explain.
The story starts off with a sort of best case scenario for a struggling urban artist. On a level, Or’s living the dream: he’s a respected painter (albeit not as successful as he’d like), he has a beautiful fiancé that’s madly in love with him, and he’s living in the undisputed (in his mind) best city in the world.
But in the end, self-loathing and insecurity find a way to prevail like they always do. In a fit of jealous rage, Or makes up this story that his beautiful fiancé June is cheating on him, and he slashes a few of her canvases because of it. This leads him down a winding, gritty, bleeding path of self-destruction through the Gore-Bush election and heart of Chinatown before finally exploding in the poison chalice of a beautiful addict.
Rita takes and Rita gives tremendously. But, more than anything else, she destroys everything in her wake. Nobody crosses paths with Rita and comes out the other side unchanged. It’s impossible. She represents everything good and bad in the world, presented in the prettiest and most alluring of packages. Arguably his greatest work of art comes directly because of her, but she bleeds him dry and almost destroys his life in the process.
So what really matters as an artist? Is it the work itself, the life, the beauty, or something else entirely? That’s what Arthur Nersesian grapples with throughout its 284 pages, and there isn’t any obvious answer.
Perhaps Rita puts it best, right at the end: maybe art is one thing, and life’s another. Beautiful, different, and worthwhile either way.
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This will be a long, winding journey, but a necessary one nonetheless. And I can’t wait to share it with you.