Longlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize
“Fabulously written, this spellbinding debut novel is a real page-turner. A powerful, brilliantly imagined story” (Library Journal, starred review) about an ambitious young artist whose accidental photograph of a boy falling to his death could jumpstart her career, but devastate her most intimate friendship.
Lu Rile is a relentlessly focused young photographer struggling to make ends meet. Working three jobs, responsible for her aging father, and worrying that her crumbling loft apartment is being sold to developers, she is at a point of desperation. One day, in the background of a self-portrait, Lu accidentally captures an image of a boy falling to his death. The photograph turns out to be startlingly gorgeous, the best work of art she’s ever made. It’s an image that could change her life…if she lets it.
But the decision to show the photograph is not easy. The boy is her neighbors’ son, and the tragedy brings all the building’s residents together. It especially unites Lu with the boy’s beautiful grieving mother, Kate. As the two forge an intense bond based on sympathy, loneliness, and budding attraction, Lu feels increasingly unsettled and guilty, torn between equally fierce desires: to advance her career, and to protect a woman she has come to love.
Set in early 90s Brooklyn on the brink of gentrification, Self-Portrait with Boy is a “sparkling debut” (The New York Times Book Review) about the emotional dues that must be paid on the road to success and a powerful exploration of the complex terrain of female friendship. “The conflict is rich and thorny, raising questions about art and morality, love and betrayal, sacrifice and opportunism, and the chance moments that can define a life…It wrestles with the nature of art, but moves with the speed of a page-turner” (Los Angeles Times).
Lyon's candid, adroit debut follows a young artist's disturbing journey to find an audience. Lu Rile is a photographer squatting in a clapped-out industrial building in gritty 1990s Brooklyn. While staging a self-portrait, she accidentally captures a boy falling to his death outside her window. Although she has shot hundreds of images, this photograph is different, perfect. The boy's tragic death creates a close community among the building's tenants, mostly artists, and Lu becomes the confidant of Kate, the boy's mother, who lives upstairs. Lu struggles to make ends meet and to find a gallery to represent her work, neglecting all along to tell Kate about her brilliant photograph. She manages to place it in an upcoming group exhibition in which Kate's husband, Steve, also has a work, and tension mounts. Exacerbating Lu's uncertainty about whether she is doing the right thing, she believes the ghost of the child is appearing at same window from which she captured him falling. But even this is not enough to push her to confess to his mother or pull the photograph from the show. Written in raw, honest prose, this is an affecting and probing moral tale about an artist choosing to advance her work at the expense of her personal relationships.
Self-Portrait with Boy
Our book club selected this book based on an interview with the author that I heard on NPR. It did not disappoint! Loved the title and the story.