three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
45-Mar-Apr-2010
user_rating: 
0

A-ArtStudentsWarBrad Leithauser is a novelist, poet, and writing professor at John Hopkins University. His sixth novel, The Art Student’s War, is set in his hometown of Detroit, Michigan.

The Story: It’s 1943 in Detroit, and World War II is firmly under way. The thriving city is busy turning out an astonishing number of guns, tankers, and airplanes in support of the war effort. Bianca "Bea" Paradiso, an 18-year-old art student, does her part by volunteering to sketch wounded soldiers at a local hospital. As Bea struggles with her attraction to one of the injured men, she must also confront a once-stable home life that threatens to implode. In The Art Student’s War, Leithauser explores World War II’s effect on one family and portrays a uniquely American city during its glory days.
Knopf. 512 pages. $28.95. ISBN: 9780307271112

Dallas Morning News 4 of 5 Stars
"Some passages in this latest work beg to be read over and over, so perfect are the form and texture of the words. … But the book is not just artful, it’s complete in scope and veracity." Beatriz Terrazas

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[T]here is a fair amount of hazy, somber nostalgia, but there’s also a sweeping, multilayered and ultimately beautiful story about one woman’s search for authenticity, community and passion in a city that once promised so much and now produces so little. … [S]traightforward and engaging." Dean Bakopoulos

Washington Post 3 of 5 Stars
"Leithauser avoids the historical novelist’s trap of obsessing over period detail, piling on startling factoids or setting up thickets of exposition, which can make a story read like a Google-infested fact tour. Instead, he provides a living, breathing vision of Detroit in its heyday." Peter Behrens

Boston Globe 2.5 of 5 Stars
"[T]he writing can be overdone, sluggish with adverbs and adjectives. … It is as though Leithauser feels compelled to intensify each noun or verb to heighten the moment rather than trusting the action to carry emotion." Floyd Skoot

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 2.5 of 5 Stars
"[T]his new, ambitious work by [a] warm-hearted novelist and poet is a middling success. It intriguingly, although at times uneasily, straddles the traditional novel and the fable." Carlo Wolff

Critical Summary

Reactions to The Art Student’s War were decidedly mixed. On the one hand, there is Leithauser’s lyrical prose, hopeful message, and passionate coming-of-age story. On the other hand, the novel is hampered by long-winded writing, a disappointing ending, and a heroine who is entirely too obtuse. Bea just isn’t someone we can get behind, and the novel loses steam during the long, long ending. But Leithauser effectively captures the once-thriving Motor City, so if Detroit is part of your past, this is a novel to consider.