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The Suicide of Claire Bishop, Carmiel Banasky, Dzanc Books, 2015, 384 pp
Summary from Goodreads: Greenwich Village, 1959. Claire Bishop sits for a portrait—a gift from her husband—only to discover that what the artist has actually depicted is Claire’s suicide. Haunted by the painting, Claire is forced to redefine herself within a failing marriage and a family history of madness. Shifting ahead to 2004, we meet West, a young man with schizophrenia obsessed with a painting he encounters in a gallery: a mysterious image of a woman’s suicide. Convinced it was painted by his ex-girlfriend, West constructs an elaborate delusion involving time-travel, Hasidism, art-theft, and the terrifying power of representation. When the two characters finally meet, in the present, delusions are shattered and lives are forever changed.
Carmiel Banasky's debut novel dwells on two long term taboo subjects concerning human life: suicide and mental illness. It also floats along between two time periods and societal issues: war protests in the 1960s and art theft at the turn of the 20th century. If that were not enough the story includes an Hasidic Jewish convert, a mysterious painter, and a wealthy unfaithful husband.
It is a challenging read. I do not recommend it to any but the most intrepid readers. Readers who like to go beyond and beneath the standard acceptable ideas about life, family, and society. Readers who walk down the street or stand in lines and wonder about what goes on inside the people they observe around them. Readers who sometimes ponder on whether they are as well-adjusted and happy as they appear to their acquaintances and family members. Readers to whom the phrase "lost in a book" is literal.
The reward for me in reading books like this is the rich understanding of the breadth of ways that human life is lived. We are all connected, we all need help sometimes and faith in something, and we all need to take care of each other.
I have mentioned in other reviews the wonderful Nervous Breakdown Book Club, a monthly subscription service that brings you fiction and non-fiction from both mainstream and overlooked authors. I would not have heard of nor read this novel if not for them.
Brad Listi, the guy behind the book club and the editor of The Nervous Breakdown literary culture mag, also produces a weekly podcast, Otherppl, during which he interviews authors. His interview with Carmiel Banasky is here.
Finally a shout-out to the publisher Dzanc Books, independent, non-profit, and located in my spiritual hometown, Ann Arbor, MI. They publish innovative literary work, mentor emerging writers, and do much other work to advance literature and reading.
Note: I do not receive any compensation from the above entities. I just think they are great and want to spread the word.
(The Suicide of Claire Bishop is available in various formats by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)