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The Great Man

3.49  ·  Rating details ·  2,331 ratings  ·  479 reviews
From the acclaimed author of The Epicure's Lament, a novel of literary rivalry in which two competing biographers collide in their quest for the truth about a great artist.

Oscar Feldman, the "Great Man," was a New York city painter of the heroic generation of the forties and fifties. But instead of the abstract canvases of the Pollocks and Rothkos, he stubbornly hewed to p
Hardcover, 301 pages
Published August 14th 2007 by Doubleday (first published 2007)
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3.49  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,331 ratings  ·  479 reviews

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Jun 01, 2009 rated it it was ok
I can't believe this won the PEN/Faulkner.

Yes, it's great to read a novel about smart, interesting women. Yes, it does my heart good to see those older women portrayed as alluring people who still have sex.

BUT THE SENTENCES. The sentences! Christensen can't write a clean sentence to save her life! Just to open a page at random: "Teddy had had Oscar, Lila Sam, but Lila had had son, Teddy daughters; Teddy had had independence, Lila security."

And the way her characters' diction veers all over the
Patrick Brown
May 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everybody
I was going to write a typical Goodreads-y kind of review for this, but I'm too damn tired, so here's the review I posted on my blog:

Kate Christensen’s newest novel The Great Man, for which she recently won the 2008 PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction, is actually about three women and their relationship to one not-so-great man, the figurative painter Oscar Feldman. Claire St. Cloud, or “Teddy” as she’s known to her confidants, was Oscar’s lover, Abigail Feldman, his widow and the mother of his autis
Aug 02, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: over-rated
I picked this book up in an airport bookstore as it had an award and I thought it might be a good plane read. While I finished it in two flights, I can't say that was fast enough.

The story is about an artist, after his death, and the women who surround him; his wife (and their grown autistic son), his sister (also an artist), and his mistress (and their twin daughters). It's a "discussable" book in the sense that I'm sure some people would love how the characters are portrayed and there are som
Apr 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing
My first experience with Kate Christensen and her work was simply magical. Her mellow prose and smooth flow of narration was skillfully marred with sharp but true sarcasm, the story felt like real life brimming with intellectual yet spicy richness, very much beyond the usual fun things I tend to read. I rarely pick up heavy and difficult books, sometimes it's nice to pick up a fun story that's an equivalent of junk food, but with Christensen you get all the hot, sizzling action, you read about s ...more
Alannah DiBona
Sep 06, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone!
Shelves: readwithabandon
Kate Christensen's done it again. The story of the deceased Oscar Feldman (a famed womanizer of an artist), the various women still inhabiting his orbit, and the two biographers warring for his true story. Christensen's voice rings loud and true through her insanely sexy characters. Per usual, the characters themselves are round as eggs and just as wobbly; their faults are endearing, and you'll be tempted to invite them to your own dinner table. Doubtless, the mental images intended by the autho ...more
Cherise Wolas
Kate Christensen and I will be in conversation in April at the Unbound Book Festival in Columbia, Missouri, and so I just finished rereading The Great Man with great pleasure. One of the sly beauties of the novel is that though it's titled The Great Man, it's actually about the women in celebrated painter Oscar Feldman's life: his wife Abigail with whom he had a profoundly autistic son, Ethan; his longtime mistress, Teddy St. Cloud, with whom he had nonidentical twin girls, Ruby and Samantha; an ...more
Oct 24, 2008 rated it really liked it
The novel begins with the newspaper obit of Oscar Feldman, an influential painter whose work consisted entirely of female nudes, and it ends with a newspaper review of two just-published biographies of Feldman. Most of the action in the novel takes place five years after Feldman’s death, with detours into the past and the future.
Feldman had a wife, Abigail, and a retarded son to whom she was devoted and whom Oscar pretty much ignored. They lived in an apartment on Riverside Drive purchased by he
Dec 27, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those interested in the contemporary art world.
Do you know who your grandmother's sleeping with?

Refreshingly, Christensen's book gives us four very sympathetic female characters over the age of 70 who, in traditional views of the life a "great man" (in this case, a fictionalized artist named Oscar Feldman), would be marginalized as muse/mistress/wife/sister, but instead come fully, and vibrantly to life. Which is quite clearly the point.

The dialogue is witty, and the partnerships forged in the art world, and in romantic life, are well-observ
Oct 01, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-2010
Starts off with a bang, but ends with a whimper. I tore through the first 200pp. or so, caught up in and propelled along by the gripping energy of the doubling, trebling, ever-twisting tale (with its twinned families, daughters, biographers, artists, paintings, etc.). Look Jonathan Franzen, a woman can write a "big" "important" novel, too (and about women, no less)! Once the secret was revealed, however, Christensen seemed to completely lose her momentum and discard all the different threads of ...more
Rakesh Satyal
Aug 06, 2007 rated it it was amazing
an author for whom i used to work at random house, kate christensen is the ultimate find -- wildly intelligent, hilarious, and socially observant to the pt of idiot savance. today's rave NY TIMES review is 100% justified. read it NOW. the most convincing and poignant portrayal of love in later life (and the thoughts women have of their prior loves) that i have ever read.
Nov 09, 2010 rated it really liked it
This is a first-rate novel. It is a lively, fast read, but it is also satisfying, like a longer novel whose characters come to seem part of your life. One reason for that is the depth of the characters themselves, at least two of whom are truly memorable.

The situation on which story and meaning are built has its glamor and mystery. It’s slightly odd, but it feels real and it is by no means utterly strange to us. Oscar Feldman has been dead now for several years. His paintings of nude women so
Jeanne Julian
Nov 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Loved the ironic title: as we come to understand the deceased artist from the points of view of those who loved him, we see how selfish he was, and how the women in his life transcended him. These women characters, with all their flaws and prickliness, are complete and engaging, and hence not entirely likeable--but you root for them. Through their reflections and interactions, the book looks at memory, trust, loyalty, family, race, and the contemporary art scene. Very urban. Also, a portrayal of ...more
Jun 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jaclyn Day
Aug 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Few writers can do complexity this well. Love the wealth of intricate, sarcastic, weary female characters.
Jul 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Sienna by: Sunhawk
Shelves: read-2018
Very well written, easy to read, with plenty to think about. Tells the stories around the great man himself. A perfect ending.
Jul 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
Loved the rich detail and different points of view. Very well written novel
Jul 10, 2014 rated it it was ok
This book answers many important questions, such as what do old New Yorkers eat and drink when they go over to each other's apartments to hash out decades-old resentments/misunderstandings, or just to hang out with old friends and possibly talk about and/or have sex? Also, what do they eat and drink when they go to restaurants and dinner parties? Do they like this food and drink? Do they, for example, like the strange sauvignon blanc ordered by the gay "schwartze" who is writing their dead husba ...more
Apr 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
I got the ref. for this book from NPR 3 books listings under the topic of ‘3 hell-raising heroines’. True to the description (‘Move on Barbie and chocolate-cooing, romantic, dreamy girls of Disney/mills & boon, Here comes the gutsy, ballsy, acid-pouring, confident heroine …')

The hell-raising heroine in this case is Claire st. cloud (Teddy) who is unashamed to be living as mistress of the great man (Oscar, jewish, female nudes painter, selfish, peccadillo, with insatiable carnal tastes like a
Lisa Louie
Oct 05, 2009 rated it liked it
Recommended to me by a very good friend, The Great Man by Kate Christensen was an enjoyable and quick read. A famous NYC painter who specializes in nudes, dies and leaves behind two families, that of his wife, and that of his mistress, and his famous but under-appreciated sister who is an abstract painter. When two different biographers come around to research the dead artist's life, old grudges and resentments rise to the surface and get aired. In the process, the reader has the opportunity to ...more
The "great man" of the title of this book, painter Oscar Feldman, never actually appears except as a topic of other characters' conversations, since he's already dead when the novel opens. However, as we learn about him through the perspectives of the three very different women who were closest to him, I'm inclined to think we're probably getting a multi-faceted - if not necessarily objective - portrait of who he was.

Although the two writers who are simultaneously but independently working on p
Carolyn Stanley
Aug 11, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: NOBODY
Recommended to Carolyn by: NOBODY, It's my own fault I grabbed it!
OK, forget about all of the contradictions and inconsistencies regarding Teddy's garden and the time of year in NY. This book never moved out of "it's" own way.

Many readers raved about the characters being so well developed. Well developed characters are fantastic when there is more to the book: like an actual story.

So many times while reading this book I wanted to pull my hair out and I kept saying "Did I read that right?" So many things didn't make sense to me. Though this may sound ignorant
Aug 27, 2008 rated it it was ok
I didn't like the way this book was written nor did I find the characters very well developed or perhaps I didn't connect to them as well as I could have.

I found Abigail, the wife of the "Great Man", to be one-dimensional, though it could be said that the husband not only cheated on his wife but that she cheated herself of a better life by being so complacent and understanding.

Maxine, the sister of Oscar, the "Great Man", I also found to be an abrasive character. Her mannerisms were uncompromisi
Sep 08, 2008 rated it it was ok
I do not understand how this book won a writing award. I could understand an "Art World Issues in Contemporary Society" award or an "Awkward Discussions of Sex and Race" award or even a "Best Imitation of New York Times Articles" award but - writing?!? Really?!
There was so much analysis that seemed much more academic or literary than anything like real people do. It felt like the whole book consisted of "Why do you think this artist did what he did?" and "I'm not sure but I have this psychologi
Jim Leckband
Nov 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
A "Great" man is a great McGuffin. The great man (like George Kaplan in North by Northwest) doesn't appear in the novel. The great figurative painter, Oscar Feldman ("Feldman" the man in the field, like Cary Grant in the cornfield of NxNW?) has been dead for some years and the elderly women in his life are disturbed from their complacency when two biographers exhume his memory.

The real concern in this book is not the great man, of course. To me it is identity, self-realized or self-denied vs. wh
Aug 30, 2010 rated it really liked it
The Great Man is told from the perspective for four women, all in their golden years, whose lives are affected by the same man - Oscar Feldman: painter, genius, artist, manwhore - and the legacy he has left behind following his death, a couple years prior to when this novel takes place. There is Teddy, Oscar's long-time mistress, mother to his illegitimate twin daughters and aging sexpot (think Blanche Devereaux); Lila, Teddy's best friend and biggest admirer; Abigail, Oscar's widow and mother t ...more
Dec 03, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: new-york, women
Ironically titled, this engaging novel concerns some of many women who centered their lives around a now-dead painter of the super masculine NYC art circles of the 50s and 60s -- his wife, Abigail, who has more or less confined her life to her apartment, where she cares for their profoundly autistic son; Teddy, his mistress of 40 years who spent most of her life cutting herself off emotionally from everyone else, including their twin daughters; Lila, Teddy's lifelong friend, who always harbored ...more
Mar 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
I'm a huge Kate Christensen fan, in part because of the slight black humor, attention to human interactions, delight in describing good food, and also because of her style. I've read many of her books, and have yet to be disappointed.

"The Great Man" describes the interactions and struggles to go on after Oscar Feldman's death; Feldman is a philandering figurist, who is congenially married to the devoted and doting Abigail, and enamored with the independently-spirited Teddy, his mistress. Both a
Patricia O'Donnell-Gibson
Feb 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
A book of women when the title would suggest otherwise. All of the women have had some relationship with the "great man" who was an artist. From legal wife to mistress to sister to friends of his family - this book introduces the reader to women who find they have a lot to say when they finally meet to discuss what happens next after the "great man's" death. To complicate the situation, two writers have signed contracts to tell the "great man's" story. Both biographer's have different perspectiv ...more
Jul 18, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ultimately, this was a good read. The characters were developed well and the reader could piece them together from different angles. The premise of the story was interesting -- two biographers were mining the past to reconstruct the story and psyche of the "the great man", Oscar, a painter whose only subjects were female nudes. Everything gets interesting because three women each factor into the telling -- Oscar's sister, Maxine (a painter herself), Abigail, Oscar's wife, and "Teddy", Oscar's lo ...more
Dec 02, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Actually a 3.5 rating.

It’s a good story but doesn’t have the kind of insights and wit found in Christensen’s other books. The female characters in the book are aging, and while Christensen’s portrayal of them focuses on the trials of aging women, it ends up seeming mostly stereotyped rather than felt. Nor does she offer any particular insights into the art world, although clearly there was an opportunity for it.

Abstraction-vs-figuration is a theme, and Christensen touches on gender issues faced
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Racist? 6 109 Oct 18, 2008 07:55AM  
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KATE CHRISTENSEN is the author of six previous novels, most recently The Astral. The Great Man won the 2008 PEN/Faulkner Award. She has published reviews and essays in numerous publications, most recently the New York Times Book Review, Bookforum, O, Elle, and Gilt Taste. She writes an occasional drinks column for The Wall Street Journal called "With a Twist." She lives in Portland, Maine.
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