From Publishers Weekly: "A woman who reassembles her life and achieves greater maturity in her work is the protagonist of Dwyer's impressively nuanced second novel (following the well-reviewed The Tracks of Angels). In this story of betrayal, loss and forgiveness, ceramicist Kate Flannigan has made a career for herself by casting her family members as mythic figures. She's raising her 13-year-old daughter, Audrey, alone in the Southern California beach town where she herself grew up. But Kate bears a scar of betrayal: her husband, Sam, was stolen away a decade earlier by her wild sister Colleen, and Kate has since refused to speak to either of them and has even denied Sam visitation rights. As Kate begins her latest project, a ceramic portrait of herself as Zeus giving birth out of her head to Audrey (as Zeus did to Athena), her brother Luke commits suicide. His death brings the family together again, leading to the reconciliation of the estranged sisters and to Audrey's first meeting with her father. Although at times the dialogue is stagy, the symbolism obvious and the characters naively portrayed, the moments of truth in this novel outweigh these minor defects. Dwyer moves gracefully from character to character and from past to present. She gets the intergenerational dialogue just right, often with a flash of humor, and the distinctive voices ring true. Even jaded readers will be moved by this novel of quiet metamorphosis."
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Wow. What an unexpected surprise and pleasure.
Self-Portrait with Ghosts tells the story of a woman, Kate, and her daughter, Audrey, who are forced to cope with the the suicide of their brother/uncle Luke. The story is told in alternating chapters, told in the present via Kate/Audrey, and in flashback via Luke. These flashback chapters explain Luke's life and what leads to his suicide. What emerges from this is that Luke is desperately, almost hopelessly depressed, and the rest of the family is plagued by problems too. The result of Luke's suicide is that it ultimately brings the family together, particularly Kate and her estranged sister Colleen. Clearly the saddest character in the book is Luke, who is extremely depressed, to a level that anti-depressants cannot help. He seems, in short, to be wired differently in a way that is incompatible with life. Luke is presented as the kindest and least flawed character. In Dwyer's presentation it's almost as if luke *has* to die. He's the saintly sacrifice that mends his family's wounds. Luke is kind, he's quiet, he gets along with all of his family members, he's generous. These are all things of which the rest of the family falls short. The irony in the story is that Luke's calmness and kindness are what allow the family to stay divided. His moderating influence preserves the divide. Ultimately, I'm struggling to find the larger point of this book. There's a great deal of sadness, some heartfelt family moments, but there didn't seem to be a larger takeaway. While engaging enough to read, it's not the sort of book that left me thinking about it afterward.