Sirens & Muses

Ballantine. Jul. 2022. 368p. ISBN 9780593496435. $28. F
DEBUT Having won several awards in the workshopping run-up to publication of her first novel, Angress emerges with a brilliant study of art, politics, male dominance, female passion, and the commercialized art world in the early 2010s. Occupy Wall Street has erupted even as women’s art remains undervalued when Cajun Louisa Arceneaux transfers to the fictional New England Wrynn College of Art on scholarship and is fired up both artistically and personally by prickly, prodigiously gifted roommate Karina Piontek, daughter of wealthy New York art collectors. Considered difficult and unstable by her classmates, Karina disdains them in turn; her upbringing by embattled, bruisingly neglectful parents has left her with the desire (and canniness) to make art that will bring her glory. Homesick Louisa regards her roommate cautiously, but when she uses Karina as a model for her bloody-winged bird woman paintings, the two begin a relationship that is the bedrock of the novel. Meanwhile, Karina remains involved with self-regarding senior-class agitator Preston Utley, who challenges a visiting professor once famous for his political paintings but now struggling for relevance, and these relationships shift and explode in multiple ways that drive the absorbing narrative.
VERDICT A highly recommended novel of art and heart that viscerally represents the act of creation while balancing multiple themes to perfection.
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