A tender affair and the redemptive power of art are at the core of this compelling novel from National Book Award finalist Allegra Goodman, “a romantic realist who dazzles with wit [and] compassion” (The Wall Street Journal).
Collin James is young, creative, and unhappy. A college dropout, he waits tables and spends his free time beautifying the streets of Cambridge, Massachusetts, with his medium of choice: chalk. Collin’s art captivates passersby with its vibrant colors and intricate lines—until the moment he wipes it all away. Nothing in Collin’s life is meant to last. Then he meets Nina. . . .
The daughter of a tech mogul who is revolutionizing virtual reality, Nina Lazare is trying to give back as a high school teacher—but her students won’t listen to her. When Collin enters her world, he inspires her to think bigger. Nina wants to return the favor—even if it means losing him.
Against this poignant backdrop, Allegra Goodman paints a tableau of students, neighbors, and colleagues: Diana, a teenage girl trying to make herself invisible; her twin brother, Aidan, who’s addicted to the games produced by Nina’s father; and Daphne, a viral-marketing trickster who unites them all, for better or worse.
Wise, warm, and enchanting, The Chalk Artist is both a finely rendered portrait of modern love and a celebration of all the realms we inhabit: real and imagined, visual and virtual, seemingly independent yet hopelessly tangled.
Praise for The Chalk Artist
“The virtual world Goodman conjures is as feverishly vivid as it is mysterious and alluring. Not since I pushed my way through C. S. Lewis’s fusty mothballed wardrobe and stepped out into the frozen, pine-scented forests of Narnia can I remember being so effectively transported into a viscerally, sometimes terrifyingly plausible alternate universe. . . . This is a novel full of wit and spark. . . . Irresistible and arresting.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Enjoyably sharp dialogue and convincing portraits of multiple mindsets and terrains . . . One can’t help but marvel at how Goodman has captured the atmosphere of this virtual fantasy land so effectively in words.”—NPR
“Mesmerizing depictions of virtual-reality landscapes of ‘Neverwhen’ and ‘Underworld’ make the games’ dangerous power over one of Nina’s students very real.”—People
“Goodman’s latest combines fantastical flourishes (an imagined video game called ‘Underworld’) and realistic Cambridge details . . . in a narrative about art and ambition.”—The Boston Globe
“Allegra Goodman creates suspense where you might least expect to find it.”—The Atlantic
Goodman (The Cookbook Collector) probes the meaning and place of art in contemporary culture in her intricate and empathic novel. When artist and actor Collin is first drawn to Nina in a Harvard Square bar, he has no idea that the attractive young high school English teacher has no financial need to work at all. Her father is the head of Arkadia, a local gaming company at the leading edge of virtual reality technology. Convinced that Collin is squandering his talents, Nina encourages him to show his art to her father and his business partner, Nina's cruelly perfectionist uncle. The novel then shifts its emotional focus to the struggles of one of Nina's students and her increasingly troubled twin brother, who has become obsessed with Arkadia's newest game. Exploring not only the varying ephemerality and permanence of both art and relationships, this richly textured novel also considers the commodification of art and art as a means to salvation. With its strong Boston setting, the novel also offers opportunities to consider the contrasts between local and virtual communities and the authenticity of the relationships each fosters.