The Italian Teacher
Bear Bavinsky is a (fictional) American artist in the mould of the great expressionists of the 1950s, feted alongside the likes of Jackson Pollock. And like Pollock he lives a life of oppressive masculinity in which everything is sacrificed on the altar of his artistic vision. This is not his story, however. Instead Tom Rachman’s narrative follows Bear’s son, Pinch. The tale begins in Rome circa 1955 with the five-year-old Pinch living in Bear’s studio with the artist and his mother, Natalie. Pinch worships his father and attends glittering parties where the art world faun over Bear. Natalie makes ceramics, but is edged out of his affections somewhat. Time moves on and Bear leaves Natalie and Pinch, setting up in the US with a new wife. Pinch’s dabbling in painting come to naught but he moves to Canada where he studies art history. Rachman skilfully weaves together the intersecting orbits of Pinch, Bear and Natalie (and Bear’s subsequent litany of wives and children) and gives the narrative some real oomph in latter sections as Pinch toys with a bravura conceit. The author has great fun skewering art world flim flam, but leaves us with a touching and humane portrait of someone destined to grow up in life’s shadows.