A powerful and heartbreaking novel that chronicles the epic story of two families, two sons, and two marriages
Siri Hustvedt's What I Loved begins in New York in 1975, when art historian Leo Hertzberg discovers an extraordinary painting by an unknown artist in a SoHo gallery. He buys the work; tracks down the artist, Bill Wechsler; and the two men embark on a life-long friendship.
Leo's story, which spans twenty-five years, follows the evolution of the growing involvement between his family and Bill's-an intricate constellation of attachments that includes the two men; their wives, Erica and Violet; and their children, Matthew and Mark. The families live in the same building in New York, share a house in Vermont during the summer, keep up a lively exchange of thoughts and ideas, and find themselves permanently altered by one another. Over the years, they not only enjoy love but endure loss-in one case sudden, incapacitating loss; in another, a different kind, one that is hidden and slow-growing, and which insidiously erodes the fabric of their lives.
Intimate in tone and seductive in its complexity, the novel moves seamlessly from inner worlds to outer worlds, from the deeply private to the public, from physical infirmity to cultural illness. Part family novel, part psychological thriller, What I Loved is a beautifully written exploration of love, loss, and betrayal-and of a man's attempt to make sense of the world and go on living.
A starred or boxed review indicates a book of outstanding quality. A review with a blue-tinted title indicates a book of exceptional importance that hasn't received a starred or boxed review.WHAT I LOVEDSiri Hustvedt. Holt, $25 (384p) The ardent exchange of ideas underlies all manner of passionate action in Hustvedt's third novel (after The Enchantment of Lily Dahl), a dark tale of two intertwined New York families. "What is memory's perspective? Does the man revise the boy's view or is the imprint relatively static, a vestige of what was once intimately known?" So muses Columbia University art historian Leo Hertzberg as he recalls the love affair between artist Bill ("Seeing is flux") Wechsler and his model/second wife, Violet, whom Leo secretly loves almost as much as his own wife, Erica. Leo and Bill become friends when Leo buys a huge portrait of Violet, the first painting Bill has ever sold, and the two are inseparable ever after. Erica and Bill's first wife, Lucille, give birth to sons in the same year and, soon afterward, the Wechslers buy a loft in the same SoHo building. When the boys are four, Bill and Lucille are divorced, and Bill marries Violet. Linked by their love of art and language (Erica is an English professor and Violet a Ph.D. student with a specialty in 19th-century forms of madness), the two couples talk insatiably about art and life, celebrating triumphs and weathering tragedy together. In its second half, the novel shifts into the terrain of the psychological thriller, as Bill and Lucille's son, Mark, a dangerously charming boy, grows up and slips into a sinister New York club scene. So solid and complex are Hustvedt's characters that the change in pace is effortlessly effected the plot developments are the natural extension of the author's meticulous examination of relationships and motives. In considering Violet, Leo observes, "Unlike most intellectuals, didn't distinguish between the cerebral and the physical." The same distinctions are blurred in this gripping, seductive novel, a breakout work for Hustvedt. Author tour.