Reviewed by Claudia Robinson

“I could have told the whole world the source of their squabbles. I could have told them the whole truth and nothing but the truth, but it would have sunk Montrose. I would have surprised everyone by explaining that this disagreement had everything to do with ambition and control and little to do with ceramics.” – Rand

Rand Taber is an artist without a muse or direction in a world where time out of the spotlight for an artist can mean certain death, artistically speaking. Unsettled and unable to create, he eagerly accepts a position as Assistant to Harris Montrose, an artistic genius with some years in occlusion preparing for the ultimate comeback, in hopes of reigniting his own passion for painting. While working for Montrose, Taber is offered an insider’s view of his mentor’s relationships, specifically, Simon Pruhar, a sculptor, Montrose’s best friend and staunchest supporter and Montrose’s quietly attentive, but unobtrusive wife, Cynthia.

To this fusion of talent and passion, add Taber’s love interest, the exquisite Binny, who also becomes Harris’ apprentice, and then apparent muse, to BOTH men. In Montrose’s studio, Taber is privy to interviews, conversations and situations that while seemingly inconsequential, at first, eventually become the substance, marrow and narrative required to fill in the blanks of an emotional and very public dispute between Pruhar and Montrose, AND Binny, in the courtroom.

Written in double time, past and present, in both courtroom and from memory, The Rape of the Muse vacillates between emotions, situations and time, fluidly and effortlessly. Brought in to the public eye more violently than anticipated, Montrose is forced out of reclusion by Pruhar’s claims that his former friend used his likeness, as well as that of Binny’s, in a computer generated art medium, called The Rape of the Muse, published, without prior approval, knowledge or consent, by either party, in Vanity Fair. Taber becomes an unwilling and unwitting witness to the gradual decimation of two men’s friendships, as well as his own relationship with Binny. In the courtroom, both men air out what have obviously been years of ‘just under the skin’ personal grievances and vexes, using the public venue as a personal battlefield. Art, relationships, opinions, grievances and secrets are displayed vulgarly and flamboyantly for any and all who wish to watch. Filled with disillusion towards the art world and his mentor, Rand fills in the blanks of the courtroom drama with his memories and personal experiences, making the entire reader experience a front row extravaganza.

Artsy, decadently delusional and sublimely poetic, The Rape of the Muse leaves a trail of broken dreams and hearts, and sometimes, questions. Beautifully written, it begs the reader to think deeply about art, artists and creative consequences, but sometimes, this deep thinking can lead to over interpretation and confusion for the reader. I found myself needing to bounce back and forth between chapters a few times in an attempt to either confirm or deny a dangling thought that the author proffers up, frequently, as philosophical carrots.

I will confess, that not being overly artistic or art savvy/knowledgeable individual may have been the reason I felt I needed to delve deeper in to Stein’s narrative, for a better understanding of his characters. Perhaps individuals with a deeper understanding of the art world, it’s skullduggery’s, onuses and demands will have a better grasp of the inner workings behind The Rape of the Muse‘s characters. Overall, it was fluid, decorative, sensual and deceptively clever in a way that no matter the level of artistic command of the reader, it is enjoyable in that ‘unique and unsettled’ manner only a good writer can deliver.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Claudia lives on beautiful Cape Cod with her husband and two children.

The review copy of this book was provided free of any obligation by Permanent Press. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.