A compulsively readable and electrifying debut about an ambitious young female artist who accidentally photographs a boy falling to his death—an image that could jumpstart her career, but would also devastate her most intimate friendship.
Lu Rile is a relentlessly focused young photographer struggling to make ends meet. Working three jobs, responsible for her aging father, and worrying that the crumbling warehouse she lives in is being sold to developers, she is at a point of desperation. One day, in the background of a self-portrait, Lu accidentally captures on film a boy falling past her window to his death. The photograph turns out to be startlingly gorgeous, the best work of art she’s ever made. It’s an image that could change her life…if she lets it.
But the decision to show the photograph is not easy. The boy is her neighbors’ son, and the tragedy brings all the building’s residents together. It especially unites Lu with his beautiful grieving mother, Kate. As the two forge an intense bond based on sympathy, loneliness, and budding attraction, Lu feels increasingly unsettled and guilty, torn between equally fierce desires: to use the photograph to advance her career, and to protect a woman she has come to love.
Set in early 90s Brooklyn on the brink of gentrification, Self-Portrait with Boy is a provocative commentary about the emotional dues that must be paid on the road to success, a powerful exploration of the complex terrain of female friendship, and a brilliant debut from novelist Rachel Lyon.
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.)
“Rachel Lyon has written 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
"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."
"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
"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
“Self-Portrait with Boy is a remarkable debut, fierce and passionate and perfectly crafted with surefire prose and ambition to spare. It will fill you with inspiration and longing.”
—Ivy Pochoda, author of Visitation Street
“Haunting . . . more than a book about art, or morality, it is a book about time . . . Fearless and sharp.”
“Lyon’s candid, adroit debut follows a young artist’s disturbing journey to find an audience . . . written in raw, honest rose, this is an affecting and probing moral tale about an artist choosing to advance her work at the expense of her personal relationships.”From the Publisher
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.