Guernica Magazine

Rachel Lyon on the Amoral Artist

The novelist on her new book, Self-Portrait with Boy, the nature of photography, and the ethics of creating. The post Rachel Lyon on the Amoral Artist appeared first on Guernica.

In Rachel Lyon’s debut novel Self-Portrait with Boy (Scribner), the narrator and central protagonist Lu Rile accidentally photographs a young boy, Max Schubert-Fine, falling to his death outside her window. She calls this photo of pure, accidental genius “Self Portrait #400,” denoting the series she’s been occupied with. But it’s this particular image—this strange, haunting, and beautiful display of human tragedy—that sets in motion the novel’s primary question: will Lu Rile risk her budding relationship with Max’s grieving mother by exhibiting the photo in pursuit of her own career ambitions, or will she preserve friendship in spite of her art?

Rachel Lyon is at once a realist and a dreamer. The descriptions of 1990s Dumbo feel so tangible that you want to walk under the rain-slicked overpasses while listening to the Pixies’ Bossanova (the narrator indeed enjoys the Pixies, too). But between Lyon’s brilliant flashes of realistic prose, snappy dialogue, and brisk plot, is the space of dreaming: Lu Rile’s (or is it Rachel Lyon’s?) philosophical fixations and the slight absurdism with which she sees her places, and others’ places, in the world.

In many ways, is a post-coming-of-age novel (Lu Rile is twenty-six after all), and is a recasting of the question to Just as Lu Rile cannot help but fixate on her possible decision we cannot help but feel ourselves judging her. Such is the stuff

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