Review: The Rape of the Muse, by Michael Stein

Just a note - I realize I'm behind in my blogging for the beginning of the year. I haven't recapped, I haven't looked ahead, and I'm behind by two reviews ALREADY. This is all in part due to the fact that this particular review was written, and then my thumb drive crapped out. So I had to write it again. Fun fun fun til her daddy takes the T-Bird away. Anyway, I can only hope the re-write is equal to the original.

Despite a face that only a mother could love, Michael Stein's The Rape of the Muse is not a work of terror or murder, or even thrill--it is, rather, a kind of sedate little novel in which the characters appear rather flat, overshadowed by the author's vision, and bloated with his artistic passion.

This is actually not a bad thing. Rather than being the true focus, the characters are rather vehicles for the debate at hand: What is beauty? Who has it? Who can destroy it? Narrator Rand seems to seesaw between the pursuit of beauty, and lust. Meanwhile his mentor, Montrose--a selfish being matched only by the acidic fictional Rosa from Alina Bronsky's The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine--seems constantly at odds with everyone, but especially with his best friend of thirty years, Simon Pruhar, whose own pursuit of beauty is undermined by his desire for fame and acknowledgement.

The story is based on a real case: Silberman vs. Georges regarding The Mugging of the Musefrom the 1970s. Stein includes the legalese of the inspiration, by also puts his own spin on things by infusing the trial speeches with a passion for beauty and art not often expressed by crotchety self-serving characters (outside of, perhaps, the grandstanding sometimes seen on shows like "Law & Order"). But, as with any piece of art, we must understand Stein's work as an allegory. That is to say, made in one form to represent another: sure, it's about a bunch of artists all fighting for freedom of expression, but deep down it's about friendship and hatred, and how those things must and do coexist in a world where beauty--the pursuit of beauty--is the only honorable pursuit.

In a world where we've moved past the groundbreaking changes that Montrose is attempting by switching from sculpture to graphic art, the value of this novel's message about art may be too late, but Stein's keen observation of humanity and it's quirks is timeless.


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