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The Painting 

This debut novel is like a scrumptious dinner capped with a disappointing dessert

Wednesday, Dec 22 2004
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By Nina Schuyler

Algonquin Books (2004), $22.95

Reading Bay Area writer Nina Schuyler's delicate, lyrical love story -- her debut novel -- is an experience much like savoring a scrumptious dinner capped with a slightly disappointing dessert. Schuyler enthralls from the first few pages by introducing Hayashi, a talented 19th-century Japanese potter, and his wife, Ayoshi, a remote beauty who prefers painting images of her last, lost lover to spending time with her husband. The author continues the intrigue by jumping to France, where Jorgen, a maimed Danish soldier, is falling in love with Natalia, the sister of his employer, an importer. The two couples are connected by one of Ayoshi's paintings, which Jorgen finds in a shipment of Japanese bowls. Magnificent, ethereal, and erotic, the painting symbolizes Hayashi and Ayoshi's faltering love even as it ignites Jorgen's passion for Natalia. With keen description -- its passages on era-specific Japanese food, clothing, and architecture are particularly fascinating -- and often poetic language, The Painting is a gorgeous read. But why did Schuyler choose to end her story with (spoiler alert) one set of lovers torn apart and the other barely brought together? Teasing us with the promise of lust requited for almost 300 pages and then not handing us a truly romantic conclusion is just as frustrating as an evening of foreplay with no satisfaction. But it's some pretty steamy foreplay all the same.

About The Author

Joyce Slaton

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