An intricately plotted, very interesting first novel that
intermittently echoes both Gaddis's The Recognitions and Fowles's
The French Lieutenant's Woman while patiently tracing a disgraced
artist's arduous path toward some sort of authenticity in his
personal life. Seattle photographer (and art historian) Robert
Armour unwittingly committed fraud when he brokered the sale of
several erotic photographs falsely represented to him as the work
of Edward Weston. A chance to restore his reputation arises when
Robert discovers, in the home of "rich no-talent" amateur painter
Judith Lund, a set of photographic plates he instantly recognizes
as the work of Chinese-American master Wilfred Eng, a revered
landscape photographer whose deepest energies had been dedicated to
"portraying the racial imbalance in America." The negatives that
Robert has stumbled onto are nudes, studies of Ellen McFarland, the
young wife of a San Francisco millionaire - and, as had been
previously disclosed, in a titillating "scholarly" volume (Love
Diary of a San Francisco Lady), Wilfred Eng's lover. Orton's tricky
narrative deftly balances the intrigues into which Robert's scheme
to market the negatives quickly plunges him - and which also
involve Robert's divorced Diane Mays and her young son "Budge," a
duplicitous colleague (Parker Lange) and his twin mistresses, the
wrathful Judith, and the profit-motivated Eng descendants - against
the plaintive testimony of Ellen McFarland's candid meditative
outpourings (of which there's rather more than initially meets the
eye, so to speak), and the eventually revealed troth about Wilfred
Eng's real feelings toward the wife of a plutocrat who represented
everything the reformer in Eng had hated. A clever, highly informed
dramatization of the troth that Robert Armour thinks only he
understands: "If old photography taught any lesson it was that no
one could live without the past, even if they [sic] wanted to." An
unusual and beguiling debut performance. (Kirkus Reviews)
A stunning first novel-morally refined, historically accurate, and
ripe with mystery and intrigue . Disgraced photo dealer and art
historian Robert Armour stumbles upon the long-lost glass negatives
of Chinese-American photographer Wilfred Eng. The plates, nudes of
a beautiful young woman taken in 1874, bring certainty to the rumor
of an interracial affair between Eng and Ellen McFarland, wife of
the business tycoon who was Eng's patron. Their difficult affair
becomes an obsession for Armour and the backdrop for the novel as
he struggles for professional redemption and love. 001 1582431264
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