The Italian Teacher

Viking. Mar. 2018. 352p. ISBN 9780735222694. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780735222717. F
This latest from Rachman (The Imperfectionists) follows the life of Charles (Pinch) Bavinsky, son of narcissistic painter Bear Bavinsky. A mid-20th-century phenomenon, Bear falls out of fashion once pop art and postmodernism take hold, leaving a string of ex-wives and children in his wake as he continues to coast on his fame and ego without producing any more work. The unassuming and middling Pinch, in awe of Bear and wishing to accomplish something to impress his father, fails as a painter and academic. He fails as well as at romantic relationships and ends up as a language teacher in London. Not until late middle age does he discover a path to self-actualization and a form of power and success. Presenting a life chronologically has fallen somewhat out of fashion, but Rachman demonstrates the power of this sort of storytelling. Without the distractions of flashbacks and multiple narrators, Pinch's trajectory slowly builds momentum. Seemingly insignificant events and conversations take on great import years or decades later, and readers will take pleasure in the discoveries.
VERDICT Along with the skewering of art-world and academic pretensions, there is humor, humanity, and compassion in Rachman's writing. For most fiction readers. [See Prepub Alert, 9/25/17.]
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