Originally published August 2017
Quick and dirty review: Heck ya, read it.
Allegra Goodman’s “The Chalk Artist” is an easily relatable read. For we all have been Collin, or known a Collin, or raised a Collin. Or a Nina. Or an Aidan for that matter.
Centered in present day Boston, Collin James, son of Maia, is a college dropout, but not without prospects. He’s somewhat self-absorbed, and creative, yet unmotivated by anything but a young woman that comes regularly, by herself, to the restaurant/bar where he waits tables. He’s bewitched, and uses his artistic skill to score points and get his foot in the door with her. That woman, Nina …
… is the daughter of a gaming company founder. Set for life but compelled to give by teaching others, she’s unsure of herself and of others’ intentions. Still, she lets Collin into her world gradually, even as she continues to reach students like …
Aidan, the more talented but less responsible half of a set of twins, completely immersed in the virtual reality fantasy world created by Nina’s father, Viktor and his brother, Peter (insert asshole alert here), boss to Collin. Despite the obsession, Aidan remains bonded to his sister …
Diana, daughter to Kerry, a single mom and nurse working the night shift to pay the bills and keep a roof over Diana and Aidan’s heads. Diana struggles with her loyalty to her brother and her desire to protect him from himself, all the while trying to reconcile her attraction to her best friend Bryanna.
It all sounds kind of sordid, but isn’t that way at all. These are just people trying to find their way through life, and not all that much different than any of us on any given day. Collin’s indifference toward finishing college is a scenario very much rooted in reality, as is Aidan’s gaming obsession and the marketing jackasses that hook these kids and reel them in. Same goes for Nina’s insistence not to rely on her healthy bank account, increasingly frustrating in that her vocation of choice, teaching, is much harder than she first thought it would be. Kerry’s relentless hope and prayers for her son aren’t all that different than Maia’s for Collin — two moms that recognize the enormous potential in their kids, and desperate for those very kids to see it in themselves.
I enjoyed this book for all that it was, great storytelling, and all that it was not—a heart pounding thriller with ridiculous roller coaster ending. The plot lines were engaging enough to keep a reader hooked without any salacious curveballs. If anything, it could have stood for a tiny bit more backstory on Collin and Maia and Viktor and Nina, in an attempt to better understand how their psyches came to be. But there is something for everyone to connect with in this tale, and may remind you of your first loves and first teachers. Also? A wonderful reminder that art in all its forms—including chalk, electric, or prose—can reach into your soul and change you forever.
A perfect summer read. If you can commit, it shouldn’t take you much more than a weekend.