Naked Under the Lights
by Judith Peck
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Pub Date 29 Oct 2020 | Archive Date 31 Jan 2021
The novel is set in and around the iconic Art Students League in New York City where 20th Century stars of the art world studied and taught. Here, Bert Kossoff teaches painting when he is not cloistered in his studio. His wife Ruth defends her husband’s distance and tolerates his infidelities for the sake of their daughter. Sonata at age 18, lacking purpose of her own, is drawn to the mystique of her father in his world of artists and models. There she is betrayed by her artist/lover and comes to feel used, like Irene, a nude model posing for others to take what they want.
In the struggle to find her way, Sonata encounters family secrets long concealed and later, one that tears open their lives, exposing the lies that have sustained them.
As each member of this shattered family finds a path to move forward, art itself—the urgency to create—is revealed as a force of its own. The terrain is confounding, where people searching for truth have learned to practice the art of illusion.
Telling this story of passion in family and in art, the author, an artist herself, makes both come vibrantly alive.
A Note From the Publisher
“Peck’s insight into the art world and what makes such talented people tick is her forte, one of the reasons the story is so unique. She is an amazing writer.” –Terri Valentine, author of Sands of Time
Average rating from 2 members
This was an odd one to figure out how I felt about it. It's not a heavily plot drive book but there's an undercurrent of mystery and secrecy through it that kept me compelled. Despite that, I was a little frustrated by the slow start and how long it took us to start revealing much about these characters. It also has shifts in perspective which worked well in some places and which I found jarring in others, particularly in the shift into the second section Vincent. I briefly found myself myself unmoored, not quite sure who I was following.
I did really enjoy how art was inweaved throughout almost everything. It expresses quite a bit about sex and the body and beauty through the medium of art. The inclusion of models for classes as characters and how their bodies are observed was particularly thought provoking and interesting.
Otherwise this focuses mainly on family dynamics, especially the relationships each family member has and how it effects everyone else. The father Bert is a domineering figure, pushy in what he wants and fairly distant from his family except in art. Overall I didn't manage to care much about these characters and it's hard to tell if that's mainly driven by Bert's character. I didn't discover much emotional depth, much of it feels observed and detatched rather than experienced by the characters. Thankfully Sonata was often a way in, her young angst and passion making itself heard.
I don't want to spoil too much about it but it does make for an interesting read, both about the art world and as a family drama even if it didn't totally land with me.