A literary novel that reads like a painting, Michael Stein’s The Rape of the Muse is based on a true art-world rivalry and courtroom drama, but plays out like rich allegory, painted with haunting colors and the passions of man.
The Rape of the Muse is art—computer art to be exact, built with images layered and altered and bound together in form like a sculpted piece. The artist is a sculptor who’s lived in exile (in Providence) since his long-ago triumph on the New York stage. His assistant is a young man who’s lost his muse and might be falling for another. And his best friend, greatest ally and strongest supporter is either the quietly supportive wife or the unquiet, commercially savvy Simon Pruhar.
I could ask all the questions now I suppose—does commercialism rape the muse of true art? Is love the only true muse? And so on. But asking questions feels prurient after reading this novel—better let the reader follow the story, eyes drawn aside by surprisingly powerful descriptions that paint fine art, ears bent to the everlasting argument, thoughts turned to why?
The two sculptor friends now meet in court, young assistant playing the part of observer, filling in scenes with memories, then searching those remembered scenes for meaning. The muse turns out to be more than she confessed. The uncommunicative child parallels the artist whose vision stalls at man’s incomprehension. And the interpretation of image and words shifts and changes. In the end the “truth,” if such exists, of libel or allegory lies hidden in the eyes of a courtroom of beholders. The reader, like the observer, moves on, carrying interpretation “in accordance with his own values, beliefs, and lifestyle.”
Of all the books I’ve read recently, this is the one I’d label as art and recommend most highly to my most artistic friends, a novel filled with parallels real and imagined that leaves the reader breathless.
Disclosure: I received a free bound galley of this book from the publisher, the Permanent Press, in exchange for an honest review.
Title: The Rape of the Muse
Author: Michael Stein
Publisher: The Permanen t Press
Number of pages: 206
Publication date: October 2011