Self-Portrait with Boy

Self-Portrait with Boy

Longlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel PrizeA compulsively readable and electrifying debut about an ambitious young female artist who accidentally photographs a boy falling to his death—an image that could jumpstart her career, but would also devastate her most intimate friendship.Lu Rile is a relentlessly focused young photographer struggling to make ends meet....

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Title:Self-Portrait with Boy
Author:Rachel Lyon
Rating:
Edition Language:English

Self-Portrait with Boy Reviews

  • Rachel

    I was blown away by this book.

    is a ruthless examination of the cost of success for a young hopeful photographer. Lu Rile is in her late 20s, squatting in an Artists in Residence abandoned-warehouse-turned-apartment in Brooklyn which is so run down it should be condemned, working three jobs and trying to break into the competitive arts scene. When she accidentally captures in a self-portrait the image of a young boy falling to his death, the photograph turns out to be stunn

    I was blown away by this book.

    is a ruthless examination of the cost of success for a young hopeful photographer. Lu Rile is in her late 20s, squatting in an Artists in Residence abandoned-warehouse-turned-apartment in Brooklyn which is so run down it should be condemned, working three jobs and trying to break into the competitive arts scene. When she accidentally captures in a self-portrait the image of a young boy falling to his death, the photograph turns out to be stunning, and Lu is forced to decide if she should destroy the print out of respect for the grieving family who she ends up befriending, or if she should use it to launch her career. (There's also a supernatural element to the story, as Lu believes she is being haunted by the ghost of the boy who died - though whether this element is literal or a manifestation of Lu's internal turmoil, I think Rachel Lyon leaves that for us to decide.)

    Lu is one of the best anti-heroines I think I've ever read. She's fueled by an almost ruthless ambition, but so vulnerable that I found myself sympathizing with and rooting for her, even though she never asks you to. She's not a warm narrator and she doesn't ask for pity, but she's all the more honest and compelling for that fact. When she looks at her photograph she's forced to confront the very nature of art itself and the role of the artist - is it her responsibility to spare the feelings of this boy's family, or does she have a stronger duty to her career and the truth behind her art?

    I'm actually very familiar with the Brooklyn neighborhoods - Dumbo and Brooklyn Heights - that provided this story with its setting, so that was definitely part of the appeal for me. It was fascinating to step back in time and look at Dumbo not as I know it now, but on the brink of gentrification in the early 90s. But even if you've never been to Dumbo, I think it's still possible to be impressed by just how immersive this novel is. It's such a brilliant and insular look at the New York art scene in the 90s; fans of twentieth century American art in particular I think will be entranced by this story.

    There's really only one element of this novel that didn't work for me - the omission of quotation marks in dialogue. I can only assume that since Lu is recounting this story 20 years later, the desired effect is to imply that it's Lu's remembrance of characters' dialogue, rather than verbatim quotes? But I'm still not sure that it was necessary - it seems like a rather arbitrary stylistic choice. It didn't bother me enough to detract from my 5 star rating, but I think it's going to be a big deterrent for some people.

    But like I said, all things considered, I was blown away. I don't think I appreciated just how hard-hitting this book was until I read the final sentence and nearly burst into tears. This whole novel was beautiful and unsettling and unique, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. I'll look forward to anything Rachel Lyon writes in the future - she's a huge talent to look out for.

  • Lolly K Dandeneau

    via my blog:

    'Tragedy is insignifigant, banal.'

    Is it? Lu Rile is hungry, to be something in the art world, to make her mark no matter what. Art is to be seen, be it disturbing or not. Is it her fault if the photo that could make her career happens to be another woman’s all consumning tragedy? When she accidentally captures a young boy falling to his death in a photograph of herself, she has to decide whether betrayal is a worthy price to pay in the name of a

    via my blog:

    'Tragedy is insignifigant, banal.'

    Is it? Lu Rile is hungry, to be something in the art world, to make her mark no matter what. Art is to be seen, be it disturbing or not. Is it her fault if the photo that could make her career happens to be another woman’s all consumning tragedy? When she accidentally captures a young boy falling to his death in a photograph of herself, she has to decide whether betrayal is a worthy price to pay in the name of art. By chance, the boy lives in the same riverside warehouse she does, a place that smells of rat poisoning and turpentine, the only place she can afford in New York. Working in a health food store where she is treated poorly is the only way she can work on her picture a day plan, but time is of the essence, she has to be taken seriously if she will ever make a name for herself. When she forms an intensely close bond with Kate, Max’s greiving mother, the photo and the boy begin to haunt her, wreaking havoc on her sanity. This is her future, the gold, the meat and yet her love for Kate causes pause. She knows if she moves forward to show the photograph, it will be the ruin of everything she has built. There is a choice, or is there? Kate’s husband Steve is an artist, surely they understand art above all else belongs to the world? It cannot be denied that the photo is beautiful in it’s horror. It’s amazing what we convince ourselves of when it comes to our own wants.

    Kate has taken Lu Rile into her home and heart, confiding the intimate struggles of her marriage, sharing the abyss of grief for her beloved,late gifted son Max, not once imagining Lu Rile is keeping the secret of her son’s final moments from her. That back in her own crummy apartment is a devastating photograph of his fall. Lu struggles just to survive, working in a health food store, her father depends on her and needs an expensive surgery, she simply is not making enough to maintain their lives. Kate knows the right people, everything is falling into place, this is the chance Lu must take, finally an oppurtunity to push her art out there. Can’t this be a blessing that blossoms out of grief and tragedy? Lu would be insane not to take advantage of the chances her friendship with Kate affords her. How much of her love and compassion, her tenderness for the deeply wounded, broken Kate is selfless? Can’t she take care of Kate but also look out for her own needs too? Why is it so wrong?

    Who is this Lu? “There are so many people I had not yet become.” It seems there are so many versions of ourselves that haunt us, so many different people within us begging to be born. Is hunger and a drive to be someone reason enough to betray? Are there moral grounds that should never be tramped upon, even for the sake of art? It’s stunning the lengths people go to to make something of themselves, and what works wonderfully in this novel is the internal tug of war Lu is having within herself to do what is right, for her or for Kate, whom she’s come to love. How a novel can break your heart one moment and make you furious the next is a wonder.

    I devoured this novel, it was ugly and beautiful, much like everything going on inside of Lu. It made me spitting mad at times too.

    Publication Date: February 6, 2018

    Scribner

  • Fran

    Lu Rile, a dirt poor twenty-six year old photographer, lived in an abandoned warehouse in Brooklyn, New York. The landlord allowed artists to squat in his cheap, ill-repaired lofts. Gentrification would eventually force apartment dwellers to accept buy-outs. Barren streets with crumbling sidewalks and unheated living space would be replaced by exclusive residences. For now though, Lu lived in a fourth floor loft. She worked part-time in Summerland, an upscale health food store in Brooklyn Height

    Lu Rile, a dirt poor twenty-six year old photographer, lived in an abandoned warehouse in Brooklyn, New York. The landlord allowed artists to squat in his cheap, ill-repaired lofts. Gentrification would eventually force apartment dwellers to accept buy-outs. Barren streets with crumbling sidewalks and unheated living space would be replaced by exclusive residences. For now though, Lu lived in a fourth floor loft. She worked part-time in Summerland, an upscale health food store in Brooklyn Heights. The wealthy clientele treated her like a non-existent entity. Her subsistence diet consisted of food she pocketed from Summerland.

    Lu, a struggling photographer, needed a platform for change. She embarked upon a photographic exercise in the study of technique; shadows and depth perception. Every day, she staged her self portrait then critiqued the photo. Self-Portrait #400 was unique. Against the backdrop of the loft's large pane window, a nude Lu leaped up in the air from the right while a blur from the left descended, followed by screams and sirens. An accidental masterpiece. A falling boy (Max Schubert-Fine falling to his death) while Lu leaped in the air. A perfect photo of flying and falling. The photo could be transformative. It could be a career starter, a way to reach a wider audience. A moral dilemma ensued, a question of right or wrong.

    Upon the death of nine year old Max, neighbors from the apartments came together and developed close friendships while insulating and protecting grieving mother Kate Fine. Lu Rile, lonely and friendless, became a close confident, a new experience for Lu. Although haunted by images of Max, Lu was propelled forward but wanted to get Kate's blessing and permission to show the photo. How could she even think of approaching Kate?

    "Self-Portrait with Boy: A Novel" by Rachel Lyon is a study in morality. The emotional toll, the guilt and stress created by the accidental photo of Max's demise and Lu's potential rise cannot be understated. Ms. Lyon has created a powerful commentary on a photographer's quest for recognition and success.

    Thank you Scribner and Net Galley for the opportunity to read and review "Self-Portrait with Boy: A Novel".

  • Janelle

    Thank you so much to Scribner for providing my free copy of SELF-PORTRAIT WITH BOY by Rachel Lyon - all opinions are my own.

    I knew immediately when I read the synopsis that this book was the one to read. It’s a well-written, very unique, haunting debut novel about a struggling young photographer named Lu Rile, who lives in an almost condemned building in Brooklyn, New York. While setting up her camera for a self-portrait, she captures an unimaginable tragedy. A nine-year-old boy, Max, slips fro

    Thank you so much to Scribner for providing my free copy of SELF-PORTRAIT WITH BOY by Rachel Lyon - all opinions are my own.

    I knew immediately when I read the synopsis that this book was the one to read. It’s a well-written, very unique, haunting debut novel about a struggling young photographer named Lu Rile, who lives in an almost condemned building in Brooklyn, New York. While setting up her camera for a self-portrait, she captures an unimaginable tragedy. A nine-year-old boy, Max, slips from the roof and falls to his death. Lu happens to capture the boy as he falls from the sky which inadvertently creates an artistic masterpiece. After Max’s death, the neighbors rally around Max’s mother, Kate for support and that’s when Lu and Kate become close friends. Lu has to make a choice, her art and success or her friendship with Kate?

    The writing is raw, fearless, and captures the moral dilemma in this story perfectly. I can’t even describe the layers to this book. Lu is hurting financially and even steals food from the store she works at, so this photograph can mean everything to her career and well-being. Although Lu wasn’t friends with Kate before, she is now and needs to figure out what to do next. SELF-PORTRAIT WITH BOY is razor sharp, thought-provoking, and very emotional. It’s a slow burn that hits you so hard at the end.

  • Marjorie

    Oh how Lu Rile longs to make her mark in the photography world. She has struggled so hard and her art means everything to her. During a series of self-portraits, she inadvertently captures the fatal fall of a young boy past her window. The resulting photograph is her masterpiece, the work that her artistic life has centered on achieving. But there’s a problem. She’s become friends with, possibly even has fallen a bit in love with, the young boy’s mother, Kate, and she can’t bring herself to tell

    Oh how Lu Rile longs to make her mark in the photography world. She has struggled so hard and her art means everything to her. During a series of self-portraits, she inadvertently captures the fatal fall of a young boy past her window. The resulting photograph is her masterpiece, the work that her artistic life has centered on achieving. But there’s a problem. She’s become friends with, possibly even has fallen a bit in love with, the young boy’s mother, Kate, and she can’t bring herself to tell Kate about this photo. And another problem has arisen – the young boy, Max, is haunting Lu, appearing outside of the window that he fell past on his way to his death.

    I’m finding it difficult to believe that this is a debut novel by this author. I think she may have been a student of Joyce Carol Oates, one of my favorite authors, since she went to Princeton where Ms. Oates teaches and Ms. Oates wrote a glowing blurb for the book. That blurb is what drew me to this book. This novel had everything I could ask for. I didn’t just read this book – I lived this book. I lived in the dilapidated warehouse along with Lu and the other illegal tenants. I walked the Brooklyn streets with Lu as she took her photos and went to her three jobs. I stayed with her and her father when he underwent eye surgery. And I sweated over her dilemma of what to do with her controversial photo right along with her. I could hardly bear to read the last pages of this book. I was so invested in the story that it felt personal.

    I won’t tell any more about the plot of this book than the publisher has chosen to. I leave it to the author to tell her story, which she does to perfection.

    Most, most highly recommended.

    This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

  • *TUDOR^QUEEN*

    I was immediately drawn to the provocative premise of this book. It's the late 1980s. Young, struggling female NYC photographer Lu Rile lives in a former warehouse; a crumbling, illegal building of lofts. Lu's latest project has been taking a self-portrait each day. So far the results have not been extraordinary...until one fateful day. Lu sets up her camera and strips bare. At the appropriate moment, she leaps forward aside her wall of windows as the shutter releases, capturing her image in fli

    I was immediately drawn to the provocative premise of this book. It's the late 1980s. Young, struggling female NYC photographer Lu Rile lives in a former warehouse; a crumbling, illegal building of lofts. Lu's latest project has been taking a self-portrait each day. So far the results have not been extraordinary...until one fateful day. Lu sets up her camera and strips bare. At the appropriate moment, she leaps forward aside her wall of windows as the shutter releases, capturing her image in flight. Whilst Lu was airborne, she heard the sound of something tap against her window. Now there were more sounds. Lu would never, ever forget the animalistic howl of agony from Steve Schubert, the artist upstairs. Within seconds, Steve and his wife Kate were pounding down the hallway stairs. An unspeakable tragedy had just taken place. Steve and Kate's only child Max had fallen off the roof, fatally landing into an air vent. Days later when Lu develops the film, she makes a heart-stopping discovery: "Self-Portrait #400" captured beautiful blond-haired Max Schubert-Fine tumbling downward in her left window pane in perfect symmetry with Lu leaping across the right pane. As startling and horrific this is to discover, Lu can't deny the reality that this is her long-awaited masterpiece.

    Lu works three jobs simultaneously while pursuing the dream to have her photographs shown in a prestigious art gallery. She even steals food from the health food store she works at to survive financially. So, "Self-Portrait #400" is like a ticking time bomb as Lu deals with its implications. Although she never interacted with the Schubert-Fines prior to the tragedy occurring, Lu has now become quite close with Kate. How can Lu bring herself to tell Kate about the picture and ask for permission to have it shown as an art piece? This is the major conflict in the book.

    The author chose an unorthodox method of conveying the conversations between people. She used absolutely no quotations around the dialogue, nor identified by name the person who spoke each line (example: said Kate). You are just supposed to discern the narrators once the stage is set with the characters. At first it looked clean, simple and straightforward, but sometimes I had difficulty assigning the dialogue.

    I love reading about the art scene in New York City decades past, so this was right up my alley. It was a slow burn resolving that pivotal issue of publicizing the photo, but the author managed to keep the story interesting while it bore itself out. This was definitely a well-executed out-of-the-box (my favorite kind) story.

    Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for providing this advance reader copy in return for my fair and honest review.

  • Nancy

    Art is rooted in experience, and artists plumb their lives for their art. I think of F. Scott Fitzgerald and how he appropriated Zelda's letters and diaries and story for his work, or Thomas Wolfe whose first novel Look Homeward, Angel caused a ruckus in his hometown that was so thinly veiled in the book. And I think of Elizabeth Strout's recent novel My Name is Lucy Barton whose character is told she must be ruthless in her art. Artists are faced with telling the truth or protecting others.

    On t

    Art is rooted in experience, and artists plumb their lives for their art. I think of F. Scott Fitzgerald and how he appropriated Zelda's letters and diaries and story for his work, or Thomas Wolfe whose first novel Look Homeward, Angel caused a ruckus in his hometown that was so thinly veiled in the book. And I think of Elizabeth Strout's recent novel My Name is Lucy Barton whose character is told she must be ruthless in her art. Artists are faced with telling the truth or protecting others.

    On the first page of Self Portrait With Boy, we are told the main character, Lu Rile, was described as "ruthless," single minded. Lu, looking back on what happened twenty years previous, talks about the trauma behind the work that catapulted her into the limelight and tells us her story.

    The novel begins with Lu admitting that at age twenty-six "there were so many people I had not yet become." I loved that line because it reflects how I have seen my life since I was a teenager: life is a continual process of growth and change, so that we become different people as we age.

    Lu is a squatter in an old factory inhabited by artists. She works several low paying jobs and barely scraps by. Lu feels like an outsider, a girl who grew up poor and does not understand the world of the well-off and well-known artists around her.

    Because she can not afford anything else, Lu becomes her own model and every day takes a self portrait. One day, she sets the timer on her camera and jumps, naked, in front of the large windows in her unheated apartment. When she develops the film she discovers that in the background she has captured the fatal fall of a child.

    The child's parents become alienated in their grief, the successful artist father moving out while the mother, Kate, leans on Lu for support. It has been years since Lu had been close to anyone. She is unable to tell Kate about the photograph.

    There are weird occurrences that make Lu believe the boy is haunting her and she becomes desperate to get rid of the photograph. Lu's father is in need of money for surgery, and she is pressured to join the others in the building in hiring a lawyer. Lu knows her photo is an amazing work and she struggles between success and the love she feels for Kate and the admiration for Steve.

    Rachel Lyon's writing is amazing. I loved how she used sights, sounds, and aromas to make Lu's world real. This is her debut novel.

  • Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader

    ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

    I requested this book thanks to my GR friend, Fran. Thank you, Fran! Rachel Lyon has a unique voice and style, and this book’s premise was completely original. Lu was a photographer working three jobs to make ends meet. She lived in a rat-infested apartment in Brooklyn in the late 1980s. Her project at the time of the book’s opening was taking a self-portrait every day. It turned out that one of her photos had the image of her neighbo

    ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

    I requested this book thanks to my GR friend, Fran. Thank you, Fran! Rachel Lyon has a unique voice and style, and this book’s premise was completely original. Lu was a photographer working three jobs to make ends meet. She lived in a rat-infested apartment in Brooklyn in the late 1980s. Her project at the time of the book’s opening was taking a self-portrait every day. It turned out that one of her photos had the image of her neighbors’ child falling to his death, which was captured in a supposedly beautiful way. What will Lu do? Launch her career with this gorgeously captivating photo? Or risk losing new relationships she’s formed as a result?

    There were two small flaws for me - one was the dialogue style. Without the use of quotation marks and names to denote who was speaking, it was sometimes hard to follow, and the flow wasn’t always there. Second, there was an incident where animals were harmed...Some view these particular animals as a nuisance (rats), but I don’t know how that added to the story? And I really wish I could unsee the visual I got from that horrific scene.

    Overall, this book was engaging and well-written. I especially loved the art/photography angle. I will definitely be looking for what Rachel Lyon writes next!

    Happy Publication Week to Self-Portrait with Boy!

    Thank you to Rachel Lyon, Scribner, and Netgalley for the complimentary copy.

  • Kelli

    I had this book out of the library for six weeks and it took me about that long to decide this isn’t the book for me. I have tried so hard to stick with it because it could be an incredible story but I found that I didn’t want to pick it up, and when I did, it felt like a slog to read a few pages. I’m bored with the main plot, which feels like an afterthought, and with the many tangential stories. I also struggled with some of GR stylistic choices and felt the lack of quotation marks didn’t work

    I had this book out of the library for six weeks and it took me about that long to decide this isn’t the book for me. I have tried so hard to stick with it because it could be an incredible story but I found that I didn’t want to pick it up, and when I did, it felt like a slog to read a few pages. I’m bored with the main plot, which feels like an afterthought, and with the many tangential stories. I also struggled with some of GR stylistic choices and felt the lack of quotation marks didn’t work well with the writing.

    It’s a brilliant premise but even I know when to cut my losses, though I acknowledge that the ending might be the redemption I’m seeking. Sadly, 2 stars.

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