The aging and isolated Austin Fraser paints vividly realistic images inspired by his past; he then covers them with a filmy top coat that obfuscates the clarity. His housekeeper thinks he spoils his work with this "style."

Son of a privileged mining magnate, he spent his summers on the northern shores of the Great Lakes, and his winters in upstate New York. His model, Sara, opened her life to him, and waited. He took without giving in return. His good friend George, destined to inherit his father's China Hall, is satisfied, it seems, with a meager life in porcelain painting and selling--trite, cozy images that Austin scorns. They both remember Vivian, a beautiful sophisticate who floated through their lives one summer long ago. Austin has been away in the big city for many years, but he has a hankering to see George again. Vivian reappears and goads Austin to make the journey back in time.

Wounded in the war, George has found a partner in Augusta--a fragile nurse, haunted by her horrifying war experience and addicted to morphine. But when George is confronted with Vivian again, the peaceful stability vanishes. To his amazement, Austin discovers that George had actually married Vivian that summer, but she left him at the urging of his mother. Her return opens painful wounds. After a night of recollection with Austin, Augusta slips away. Austin waits downstairs while she overdoses on morphia. George finds her dead and takes his own life too. Austin has the bodies removed.


Starkly beautiful with well crafted images of Lake Superior and Lake Ontario, this novel of a life that is successful on the surface and vacant underneath is also bleak. Austin's style in art reflects his style in life. He is surrounded by caring, deeply emotional people whom he can accurately describe; yet, he deflects from himself any responsibility for or engagement with the acts of his friends. Augusta's recollections of her experiences as a war nurse (pp. 222-40) are vivid and might be suitable for excerpting.



Place Published

New York, London, Toronto



Page Count