I’m not aware of any other author who has attempted to infuse a novel with the inside scoop of learning to paint in oils. There are Girl With the Pearl Earring and Sacre Bleu, both good reads, and any number of other books about artists and paintings, most written by non-painters trying to capture a mystique.
But even in Chris Moore’s hugely entertaining story about the muse and the pigment supplier wrapped in a diaphanous veil of magical realism, the focus is on history, and a sprinkling of facts rather than the direct experience of the writer. With Girl, the question is, “Did the art Icon, Joe Vermeer, abuse, seduce, fall in love with, befriend, or otherwise mistreat his model?” And as a secondary question, “Was she a victim or was she in on it from the start?”
Where can you find an honest, straight-forward doorway into the real artist’s experience? You can find it in A Coward’s Guide to Oil Painting, the Novel.
Mariah, our female protagonist, experiences having a ‘muse’ as well as being described as one. She submits to the gaze of the ‘other' while she herself is the ‘other’ for two groups of life drawing enthusiasts, raising existential questions like, “How is she changed by the ‘gaze?’ and “Where does the muse reside?”
While yearning to reclaim a tenuous connection with a potential mate, Mariah must choose between a quiet, simple life focused on her own needs and an active, involved one, focused on the needs of others. Characters who mean something to her hasten the decision making process.
Cliff, while practicing the techniques of painting in an exotic setting, has breakthroughs in coming to ‘see’ naturally, without a symbolic interface. This experience equips him with tools for life as well as art and determines his mode of inquiry in solving mysteries. His choices involve the seductiveness of cannabis, the lure of sirens, and ultimately, love in its many iterations and ramifications.