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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Long Corner

Alexander Maksik

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To purchase The Long Corner

Title: The Long Corner
Author: Alexander Maksik
Genre: Novel
Written: 2022
Length: 280 pages
Availability: The Long Corner - US
The Long Corner - UK
The Long Corner - Canada
from: Bookshop.org (US)

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Our Assessment:

B : entertaining probing of art, the art world, and identity

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Forward . 7/3/2022 Steven G. Kellman
The NY Times Book Rev. . 22/5/2022 Will Stephenson

  From the Reviews:
  • "If the clash between irony and schmaltz were all there is to the novel, it would be an entertaining trifle -- Groucho Marx set loose at Mar-a-Largo (...). However, Sol also entertains the possibility that everything he observes is an elaborate charade. (...) That would certainly leaven the novel with rich ambiguities, performing the miracle of turning white bread into pumpernickel. It would thrust Maksik into the company of Paul Auster, John Fowles, and Iris Murdoch as the creator of an enigmatic literary top that continues to spin after the final page." - Steven G. Kellman, Forward

  • "The novel is more concerned with storytelling than with “bodily experience” as such, and the story it tells orbits around questions of creativity, grief and the Trump era’s demolition of platitudes and ever-escalating implausibility and absurdism. Maksik fortunately sidesteps the polemical fable one worries he might be writing in favor of a much more compelling project. (...) It is finally an argument for the necessity of irony, risk and integrity in the production of art as in life." - Will Stephenson, The New York Times Book Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Long Corner is narrated by Solomon Fields. He had some success as a journalist, notably with a profile of famed sculptor Ernst Frankel -- "one of the great artists of the century" --, but then sold out (or gave up) and took a position as a copywriter in an ad agency. He is now in his mid-thirties, and as 2016 winds down -- Donald Trump has been elected but is not yet the new American president -- he is approached by someone calling themselves Plume, who comes to extend an invitation from one Sebastian Light to be his guest at 'The Coded Garden' and to write about him -- "to witness what he has made".
       Plume had apparently already been in touch with Solomon, via email, but he has no recollection of their correspondence. Plume doesn't explain all too clearly what 'The Coded Garden' is, either:

     “A place for art. For beauty.”
     “An artist's colony?”
     “If you like.”
       In any case, Solomon isn't convinced. He has his life in New York, and he no longer sees himself as a journalist. Only when something happens that shakes him to the core a few months later does he reconsider; he remembers this place he has an offer to flee to, and so he heads for The Coded Garden, abandoning his empty life, job, and girlfriend.
       Solomon's father walked out on his family when Sol was fifteen, and Sol then grew up in a household dominated by two very strong women, his mother, Charlotte, who quickly transformed: "from Marxist-Leftist-Democrat to passionate Zionist and fervent supporter of the Israeli ultra-right" and the free-spirited Lina, her mother, who has led a storied life. Both women try to push more than nudge him to his happiness, Sol's mother encouraging him to be independent, and Lina pushing him to aspire to higher ambitions -- not least, through art. They and their very different attitudes make a strong impression on him, and he repeatedly reflects back on his time with them.
       The Coded Garden is a set on a large property on an island. Even if Sol is no longer a journalist, he does remarkably little research to try to find out anything about it or about Sebstian Light before heading there. Sure, the place doesn't have a website -- but it can't be that hard to dig up some information. But he doesn't even really try. Upon his arrival he, like all the 'guests' there, has to hand over his electronic devices -- in his case, just his phone. (Yes, he doesn't even take a laptop or tablet with him.) He finds himself basically cut off from the outside world -- though he doesn't seem to have much of a problem with that.
       The Coded Garden is a kind of artist's colony. The other guests are aspiring artists, as Sebastian explains to Sol:
They're here to learn. As such, in return for food, shelter and tutelage, space and time, they endeavor to look after our garden, which is, in and of itself, a kind of canvas. They paint. They pick tomatoes. They tend to the lawns, prune the trees.
       Each has a studio -- with Sol told that: "Unless you're invited, it's better not to engage with the artists while they're in their studios" -- with them working towards showing their work at their very own Biennale. (As Sol eventually observes: "“I wish everyone would stop using that word,” I said. “It's ridiculous enough in Miami. It's unbearable here.”".)
       Among the oddities of the places: the would-be artists are encouraged to rename themselves while in residence -- so there's a Crystalline, a Heaven, a Sylvan ..... Sebastian Light's name is also an assumed one -- and little known about the old, wealthy, charismatic patron-cum-guru of the place. There are all sorts of rumors about him:
     He was in prison. He was a doctor. He's an heir to an oil fortune. He was a preacher. He had his own church. He's a famous Austrian artist. He's from Argentina. He's from Florida.
       One thing that Sol does learn is that, in his earlier life, Sebastian Light knew Ernst Frankel, and there's some history there. Cryptically, Sebastian tells Sol: "Let's say I knew what he was. Perhaps better than you did". Sebastian wants Sol to do for him what he did for Frankel.
       Sol isn't completely taken in by The Coded Garden, but even he has a hard time not getting sucked into some the cult-like weirdness going on there. From the beginning, he remains confused about what it really is and what Sebastian is doing:
     I studied him and it was difficult not to believe that he was sincere, that his heart swelled when he spoke, his chest full of pride. And yet it had to be theater. It had to be art. It must be. Because if not, what then? The alternative was too sad to contemplate.
       The question of sincerity is prominent throughout the novel, with Sol having a hard time trying to figure out just how sincere everyone is being here. Sol, and the reader, ae constantly asked to consider: is it art ? is it real ? how real can or should art be ? At times, one might wonder if The Long Corner isn't really the long con .....
       Meanwhile, Sol is told, more than once: "You're always asking the wrong questions". Much as when he profiled Frankel, he's immersed in everything around the place and the art; while not creating his own art, he nevertheless finds himself a participant in the goings-on -- though in part also as a foil. Sebastian seems to have an agenda of sorts, but he remains difficult to figure out; the air of mystery to so much here remains.
       Catharsis comes, in the wake of what amounts to a kind of showdown that is the Beinnale-performance. Sol can take something from this very odd experience, truly moving on.
       It all makes for a fairly engaging story, its many quirky and determined characters making for an interesting contrast to Sol, who often seems at sea, if not outright clueless. But he bobs along and makes his way, and certainly has a lot of experiences, past and present, to share. It's a curious novel about the art-world -- in its broadest sense -- and about identity (Jewish, in particular, but also beyond that), with Maksik tossing a whole lot into this mix and -- probably wisely -- not foisting the easiest or most obvious answers on the reader. (All this also makes it an obvious book-club/group title, offering almost too much to talk about.)

- M.A.Orthofer, 15 May 2022

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The Long Corner: Reviews: Alexander Maksik: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary American fiction

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About the Author:

       American author Alexander Maksik was born in 1973.

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© 2022 the complete review

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