Lyon’s candid, adroit debut follows a young artist’s disturbing journey to find an audience. Lu Rile is a photographer squatting in a clapped-out industrial building in gritty 1990s Brooklyn. While staging a self-portrait, she accidentally captures a boy falling to his death outside her window. Although she has shot hundreds of images, this photograph is different, perfect. The boy’s tragic death creates a close community among the building’s tenants, mostly artists, and Lu becomes the confidant of Kate, the boy’s mother, who lives upstairs. Lu struggles to make ends meet and to find a gallery to represent her work, neglecting all along to tell Kate about her brilliant photograph. She manages to place it in an upcoming group exhibition in which Kate’s husband, Steve, also has a work, and tension mounts. Exacerbating Lu’s uncertainty about whether she is doing the right thing, she believes the ghost of the child is appearing at same window from which she captured him falling. But even this is not enough to push her to confess to his mother or pull the photograph from the show. Written in raw, honest prose, this is an affecting and probing moral tale about an artist choosing to advance her work at the expense of her personal relationships. (Feb.)"The conflict is rich and thorny, raising questions about art and morality, love and betrayal, sacrifice and opportunism and the chance moments that can define a life. The novel wrestles with the nature of art but moves with the speed of a page-turner."
—Los Angeles Times
“Striking…though it looks backward to the end of an era in New York, it's not at all nostalgic. Think the tough tone of something like Rachel Kushner's New York/Italian art and politics novel, The Flamethrowers, or Olivia Laing's atmospheric nonfiction book about New York, The Lonely City. Lyon's heroine, a young woman named Lu Rile who has just graduated from art school, is a bit like plain Jane Eyre, minus the moral compass…Self-Portrait With Boy is a smart novel about the narcissistic ambition that's needed to succeed, especially in the art world, especially in New York.” --Maureen Corrigan, NPR
"A sparkling debut... wrestles with complex questions about art-making, integrity and the ethics of ambition." --The New York Times Book Review
"Self-Portrait With Boy captures the furious beauty of a vanished New York, an irresistible whirlwind of passion, violence, love, struggle, and above all else, art. Rachel Lyon paints an unforgettable portrait of a true art monster—a young woman hellbent on pursuing greatness, no matter the cost."
—Robin Wasserman, author of Girls on Fire
"Lyon frames the choice as one of self-definition: must one be ruthless to be an artist?" --The New Yorker
"A confident first novel... The moral dilemma Lyon sets up is explored with intelligence and grace ... Best of all is Rile’s voice, snappish and self-aware and scared, taking on the world while being devoured by it, reaching out to touch the ghosts that float above the East River." --Seattle Times
"Rachel Lyon navigates a spectrum of loyalty and betrayal like a tightrope-walker, with all of the attendant suspense. A life-changing moral choice powers this atmospheric novel which shows what can happen when you do what scares you most."
"A formidable novel, equal parts ghost story, love story, and riveting Bildungsroman. Full of big ideas about art and love and ambition, with prose so vivid it gives off sparks—this debut won me over completely. Chilling and beautiful, just like the work of the artist at the heart of the story."
—Julie Buntin, author of Marlena
“I read Rachel Lyon's sharp and achingly beautiful novel about art and fame and loneliness and death in a frenzy, full of a deep and urgent need. With this gorgeous debut, Lyon will unravel you and then stitch you together again as something entirely new.”
— Manuel Gonzales, author of The Miniature Wife and Other Stories
“A haunting tale of how a singular, devastating event in the life of a young woman photographer changes the trajectory of her life and comes to define her utterly. Beautifully imagined and flawlessly executed, Self-Portrait With Boy will suggest, to some readers, the obsessive interiority of the great Diane Arbus, conjoined with an original and disturbing examination of the ill-defined borders between life and art."
—Joyce Carol Oates
"In her gripping first novel, Lyon sympathetically portrays Lu’s struggle." —Booklist, starred review
“Fabulously written, this spellbinding debut novel is a real page-turner. A powerful, brilliantly imagined story not easily forgotten; highly recommended.” --Library Journal, starred review2017-11-14
When an ambitious young photographer captures an unthinkable tragedy—and creates an accidental masterpiece in the process—she is forced to make a choice that will define her future.Thick with the atmospheric grime of early 1990s New York, Lyon's haunting debut hinges on a single instant: the moment when recent art school graduate Lu Rile, broke and ruthless, sets up her camera for a self-portrait—the 400th in her series—and captures, by chance, the image of a little boy falling from the sky. The boy is Max Schubert-Fine, the 9-year-old son of Lu's upstairs neighbors, and now he is dead, having slipped off the roof of their building, a crumbling Brooklyn warehouse not officially zoned for tenancy. The building's motley crew of residents—all artists; who else could live there?—come together in the aftermath of the tragedy, rallying around Max's beautiful mother, Kate, and offering Lu, until now a loner, something like community. In the weeks that follow, Kate and Lu form an intense and complicated friendship, united in loneliness, held together by a flicker of unspoken attraction. But Lu doesn't tell Kate about the photograph of her son falling, the photograph that could—that will—fundamentally change the course of Lu's career, offering her an escape from both poverty and obscurity, a name and a paycheck. (God knows Lu, whose father is ailing, needs the money.) From its first sentences, the novel is hurtling toward its inevitable and nauseating conclusion as Lu chooses between her friendship and her art, a choice that wasn't ever really a choice at all. More than a book about art, or morality, it is a book about time: Lyon captures the end of an era. Lu, after this, for better and worse, will never be the person she was before the photograph. And as the warehouses get developed and the rents rise, the city won't ever be the same, either.Fearless and sharp.02/01/2018
While taking her self-portrait for the 400th time, photographer Lu Rile captures the very moment that her neighbors' young son Max falls to his death. When she enlarges the image, his blond curls and untied shoelaces are clearly depicted in the background. At the artists' loft in New York City where they live, all the neighbors unite to comfort grieving parents Kate and Steve, and Lu becomes close to Kate. She confides to Kate that Max haunts her, making tapping sounds on the glass and that sometimes she sees the image of his intact body coming through the window. Lu considers her photograph a masterpiece and with ruthless determination has it shown at a nearby gallery without telling Kate and Steve of her plan. "Self-Portrait with Boy" is a big hit, gaining favorable attention from the art world, but Lu's actions create awful repercussions. VERDICT Fabulously written, this spellbinding debut novel is a real page-turner. A powerful, brilliantly imagined story not easily forgotten; highly recommended.—Lisa Rohrbaugh, Leetonia Community P.L., OH