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La Tour Dreams of the Wolf Girl

por David Huddle

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533480,868 (3.15)5
In this absorbing novel, the award-winning author David Huddle tells a provocative story involving the life of the mysterious painter Georges de La Tour and the echoes of his work across time. An art history professor, Suzanne Nelson escapes her failing marriage by retreating into her research and the fertile world of her imagination. La Tour's ability to create luminous portraits of peasants stood in sharp contrast to his aggression toward the poor, but little information about his life exists, and Suzanne finds herself filling in the details, trying to understand how a man capable of brutality could create such beauty. Unwittingly looking to her own life and marriage, she invents La Tour's final painting sessions with a young model, a village girl. When the girl modestly disrobes for the artist, he discovers a marking on her back that she is obviously unaware of. By painting her, La Tour in effect reveals to the girl exactly who she is and who she is not. Her reaction is at once astonishing and utterly warranted. In Suzanne's mind, this encounter becomes a story of truth and lies, art and identity. Deftly moving between the present and the seventeenth century, Huddle reveals the surprising repercussions of history and art in modern life. In the process he asks the biggest questions: How do we come to define who we are? Which secrets must remain our own and which can we justify giving away? LA TOUR DREAMS OF THE WOLF GIRL is both passionate and fascinating, a wonder of narrative invention and emotional depth.… (mais)
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What I love about Huddle's work is that he is always up to something, experimenting. That said, not every experiment is going to work -- or work for everyone. In this novel the story goes back and forth from George de La Tour, a French Baroque painter from the 17th century, to present-day Burlington, Vermont with little stops in Manhattan and Virginia up in the mountains where the two main characters come from, one from the city (Jack) and the other from a rural backwoods town (Suzanne). Suzanne is the first of her family to go to college and she is, by her own words, "a phenomenon". Jack is an ordinary likeable fellow of the middle upper crust. Well, so they marry and Jack goes into advertising, a salesman is what he is, and Suzanne becomes a tenured art prof at the University of Vermont. We go between their story and Suzanne's imagined story of de la Tour's last painting, of a girl with a blemish, a small pelt of fur on her back. They develop a relationship that goes bad. In fact, most relationships seem to falter whenever people try to open up to each other. I could, if I spent the time on it, get what he was up to, but other things didn't work for me, to do with the sorts of details Huddle chooses to highlight about people which felt, simply, like the bit of fur on the girl's back, superficial. But Huddle is always worth a try! His poetry is wonderful, by the way. *** ( )
2 vote sibylline | May 10, 2020 |

To judge by the author bio, Huddle is one of those writers -- of poetry and essays as well as fiction -- upon whom the literary establishment smiles. This is far from necessarily a recommendation, and indeed about fifteen or twenty pages into this novel I was ready to throw it at the wall on the grounds of Stark Pretentiousness Above and Beyond the Call of Duty. Luckily there wasn't a wall to hand and I persevered, because I ended up enjoying the book really quite a lot. Prissy, fortyish Vermont art history prof Suzanne and her spindoctoring businessman husband Jack are not so much an odd couple as a couple whose ways started diverging in two incompatible directions fairly soon after they married. Now their marriage is clearly falling apart; that Jack finds solace in boffing the earthy Elly whenever he can is a symptom of this rather than, as both he and especially Suzanne believe, a cause. Habitually reserved, Suzanne escapes the turmoil of her personal life by constructing a fantasy about the 17th-century French painter Georges de la Tour; in this extended daydream, de la Tour discovers that Vivienne, the village teenager he has taken on as his new model, has a patch of wolflike hair on the back of her shoulder of which she is (improbably) completely unaware.

What Huddle has constructed with this novel is a sort of rope of stories, and I'd guess it was Story that was really his preoccupation when he was writing it. Whatever, once he'd hooked me I stayed hooked; and by the final page I discovered that Suzanne was a far more interesting person than I'd earlier believed.

Beware of those first fifteen or twenty pages, though. ( )
  JohnGrant1 | Aug 11, 2013 |
Ugh-- I think the author used the reference to La Tour just to make his book seem weightier and more important, and then neither the art or history had mcuh significance in the book. ( )
  nicole_a_davis | Feb 19, 2007 |
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In this absorbing novel, the award-winning author David Huddle tells a provocative story involving the life of the mysterious painter Georges de La Tour and the echoes of his work across time. An art history professor, Suzanne Nelson escapes her failing marriage by retreating into her research and the fertile world of her imagination. La Tour's ability to create luminous portraits of peasants stood in sharp contrast to his aggression toward the poor, but little information about his life exists, and Suzanne finds herself filling in the details, trying to understand how a man capable of brutality could create such beauty. Unwittingly looking to her own life and marriage, she invents La Tour's final painting sessions with a young model, a village girl. When the girl modestly disrobes for the artist, he discovers a marking on her back that she is obviously unaware of. By painting her, La Tour in effect reveals to the girl exactly who she is and who she is not. Her reaction is at once astonishing and utterly warranted. In Suzanne's mind, this encounter becomes a story of truth and lies, art and identity. Deftly moving between the present and the seventeenth century, Huddle reveals the surprising repercussions of history and art in modern life. In the process he asks the biggest questions: How do we come to define who we are? Which secrets must remain our own and which can we justify giving away? LA TOUR DREAMS OF THE WOLF GIRL is both passionate and fascinating, a wonder of narrative invention and emotional depth.

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