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ONE OF NPR’S BEST BOOKS OF 2019
2020 Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence Finalist
2019 National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist
2020 Chautauqua Prize Finalist
“A daringly inventive parable of female creativity and motherhood” (O, The Oprah Magazine) from Myla Goldberg, the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of Bee Season, about a female photographer grappling with ambition and motherhood—a balancing act familiar to women of every generation.
Feast Your Eyes, framed as the catalogue notes from a photography show at the Museum of Modern Art, tells the life story of Lillian Preston: “America’s Worst Mother, America’s Bravest Mother, America’s Worst Photographer, or America’s Greatest Photographer, depending on who was talking.” After discovering photography as a teenager through her high school’s photo club, Lillian rejects her parents’ expectations of college and marriage and moves to New York City in 1955. When a small gallery exhibits partially nude photographs of Lillian and her daughter Samantha, Lillian is arrested, thrust into the national spotlight, and targeted with an obscenity charge. Mother and daughter’s sudden notoriety changes the course of both of their lives, and especially Lillian’s career as she continues a life-long quest for artistic legitimacy and recognition.
“A searching consideration of the way that the identities and perceptions of a female artist shift over time” (The New Yorker), Feast Your Eyes shares Samantha’s memories, interviews with Lillian’s friends and lovers, and excerpts from Lillian’s journals and letters—a collage of stories and impressions, together amounting to an astounding portrait of a mother and an artist dedicated, above all, to a vision of beauty, truth, and authenticity. Myla Goldberg has gifted us with “a mother-daughter story, an art-monster story, and an exciting structural gambit” (Lit Hub)—and, in the end, “a universal and profound story of love and loss” (New York Newsday).
Goldberg (Bee Season) evocatively profiles a brilliant woman whose identities as woman, artist, and mother are inseparable from one another. Aspiring photographer Lillian Preston moves from Cleveland to New York for college and spends her first few months there pining over her crush who left home to fight in the Korean War. Soon, however, Lillian turns her camera toward documenting Brooklyn's streets and denizens and, almost in desperation as a single mother in thrall to the demands of a young child, the minutiae of her life with her daughter, Samantha. When her first big break a solo exhibition at a woman-owned gallery garners more notoriety than fame (her nude photographs of her daughter, which form much of the exhibit, are labeled as obscene), Lillian comes to realize that her own ambition may come at the expense of Samantha's innocence and their relationship as mother and daughter. Set in a pre Roe v. Wade America, Goldberg's novel highlights the ways in which things have and have not changed for women artists. The book's combination of voices (composed largely of the adult Samantha's photographic descriptions and contextual narratives, excerpts from Lillian's journals, and letters between Lillian and friends) serves to construct, appropriately, a curated version of Lillian. This is a memorable portrait of one artist's life.