Gary Inbinder's second novel, The Flower to the Painter, transports the reader into the elegant, commercialistic art world of late nineteenth-century Europe. Through the sharp eye of protagonist Marcia Brownlow, we float along the canals of Venice, travel by train through the Alps, and meet John Singer Sargent, Leighton, Whistler, and other memorable painters of the time. We even exchange sketches with Renoir in Montmartre.
Marcia Brownlow was down on her luck when she came to Europe as a governess, a position that quickly became intolerable. Pleading her case before the wealthy aunt of her best friend, Marcia is faced with a risky but lucrative proposition. She accepts the challenge of working for a famous writer not as Marcia but as her brother, Mark. The combination of Mark's gender advantage and Marcia's artistic talent quickly propels her into a promising career. Her "unnatural" bent toward women allows to her romance her wealthy patronesses with pleasure, but only up to a certain frustrating point. Which will Marcia choose: her love or her art? Does it have to be one or the other?
Inbinder's intuitive sense of the sights, sounds, and smells of the period help the reader to feel that Marcia's conflicted, quixotic adventure is their own. It's not easy for a male author to convince the reader that he's inside the head of a female narrator, but even that metaliterary tension contributes to the success of this delightful novel.
Tune in again on Wednesday for a compact but insightful interview with the author.