By Troy Patterson
May 05, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT

The Unfinished Novel

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”Everyone agreed that artists were, by their nature, difficult people,” the narrator of ”Beethoven” says of her struggling painter boy-friend. ”Maybe Phil’s problem was that he wasn’t difficult enough.” Maybe not, judging by the strangely charged end of their affair — or by Valerie Martin’s memorable depictions of artists’ desires, jealousies, and ostrich-egg egos in The Unfinished Novel. In the title story, a semi-successful novelist (excessive martinis, late-model Volvo) confronts a potentially brilliant manuscript by his seedy and unsuccessful ex. His summary of their relationship typifies Martin’s rueful tone: ”Though we had briefly been lovers, there was no sense in which Rita and I were friends.”

The Unfinished Novel

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