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Rec Room: Elizabeth Onusko: The American Painter Emma Dial

January 26, 2010


beth_onusko-small.jpgSamantha Peale’s novel The American Painter Emma Dial, which was published by Norton last May, is a study of artistic inertia. Emma Dial is the studio assistant for the highly acclaimed and entirely self-absorbed artist Michael Freiberg, who plans the paintings that Emma executes. Over the six years that Emma works for (and sleeps with) Michael, she slowly loses the instinct to make her own paintings, and during infrequent visits to her studio in Brooklyn, she cleans the tiny space and prepares canvases she never uses. Enter Philip Cleary, Michael’s friend and himself a renowned painter, who recognizes Emma’s talent and pursues her.

The plot aside (it’s not altogether surprising), The American Painter Emma Dial is a comforting read despite—or perhaps because of—the main character’s inability to create. Emma naps, eats cheeseburgers, looks obsessively at a clothing catalogue featuring beautiful photographs from around the world. She does what artists of all types do when they are blocked—she stalls. The novel traces how she gradually manages to dislodge herself from her funk and venture into the next phase of her creative life. Peale nailed it—The American Painter Emma Dial stares at the most frustrating experience an artist can have and renders it honestly, authentically.

Bio: Elizabeth Onusko is Guernica’s assistant publisher. Read her last recommendation of Kandinsky “here”:https://www.guernicamag.com/blog/1498/rec_room_elizabeth_onusko_kand/.

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