Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Dissemblers by Liza Campbell

Ivy Wilkes wanted to paint since she was 12 years old. She finishes her degree, and because of a fascination for Georgia O’Keeffe, moves to Santa Fe and takes a job at the O’Keeffe museum. She meets a guard, Jake, who also works at the museum and coincidentally lives in the apartment above Ivy with his partner, Maya. Then she meets Omar, the proprietor of a local coffee shop who is Jake’s cousin. Jake and Maya are musicians and play with the local orchestra, while Omar is a dedicated bird watcher and photographer. The four of them begin relationships as interesting as they are complicated.

Ivy finds herself on a journey or two. Not only does she want to find her own style as a painter, but she wants to get as close to her beloved idol as she can. The relationships that develop among Maya, Jake, Ivy, and Omar have all the depth and angst and moments of fleeting joy a reader might expect from four individuals with artistic sensibilities thrown together by fate.

I recently finished an MFA in creative writing, and Ivy’s musings about art captured my imagination from the first page. I could take this story and substitute writing for painting, a pen for a brush, and a poem for a painting ready for public display. Campbell’s prose is fluid and dreamlike as she wanders around the hills, adobe buildings, and spectacular sky that so beautifully inspired O’Keeffe. She dreams of doing something great, something important. I had a hard time laying this book aside, but I couldn’t help myself getting out a volume of O’Keeffe’s paintings and pouring over them to try and visualize what Ivy saw on her journey.

The Dissemblers is Campbell’s first novel and suffers only from its length – I wish I had another 50 pages to linger over. I felt the heat of a Santa Fe summer, the dry wind in the desert, and that first moment of anxiety when I stare at a blank computer screen as I sit down to write. Ivy finds a cottonwood twig, and examines it for a couple of days before she begins to draw. Then a stroke or two a day in charcoal allows her to ease into the painting. How often I have done that with an idea for a poem or a story. As far as I am concerned, Liza Campbell has captured my creative process perfectly. 5 stars

--Chiron, 11/14/10

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