Lots of Questions for the Art World to Ponder with this Book
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Bear Bavinsky is a famous artist, and for a good long time it appears that he is the star of The Italian Teacher, but he is not. We first meet him in Italy when he comes to visit his wife, Natalie, and their five-year-old son, Charles, who is known as “Pinch.” They even live together at that time at least for a while. But then off he goes, to do his important painterly work, though his presence is strongly felt by Natalie and Pinch even in his absence.
As the years pass, we follow Pinch and Natalie. They have intermittent contact with Bear and even with other children Bear has fathered with other women. As we watch Pinch grow up, I thought the book dragged. Particularly in his college and young adult years, I found myself yawning. But that’s because I kept thinking he was a side story and that eventually the author would get back to the main man, Bear. It took until Pinch became an Italian teacher for me to figure things out. I wondered what that title was all about! Now I knew: It is Pinch’s story that is important.
Beyond watching Pinch grow up, there is lots of commentary on art, artists, and the world of art. Natalie is a ceramicist. Pinch tries to think of himself as a painter — though Bear swiftly and decisively squelches the notion. Indeed, there’s a lot of squelching to be seen here too. Pinch worships Bear while Bear diminishes Pinch’s life every chance he gets. There is the time, for instance, when Pinch proudly brings his girlfriend to meet Bear at his remote cabin/art studio and Bear gets notion to paint the girlfriend — nude.
When this self-absorbed artistic genius dies suddenly, the book takes a turn that will give book clubs and art aficionados LOTS to talk about. It is well worth a slow middle to get to the incendiary end. Though it happens almost accidentally, the mousy, ineffective Pinch gives up his pinch-hood and becomes a full-fledged Bavinsky.
I recommend this book. The ending will worry you for a long time…
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