There’s something about books set in artist communities that always intrigues me. Not only do I enjoy reading about the creative process, and where you have a group of artists, they will spur each other on to produce exciting work, although this can so easily tip over into being too competitive. These communities are always in the depths of the country too with little outside entertainment, and this leads to sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, good and bad relationships and friendships forming, plus rivalries and tons of jealousy. Inevitably perhaps, someone will take it too far and die… That all happened in the last example I read a couple of years ago, Fake Like Me by Barbara Bourland.
Would Katie Lattari’s novel follow the trope? Yes, but with the intensity dialled up even further to produce a taut thriller that kept me reading!
Dark Things I Adore has a dual timeframe with thirty years separating the two strands from 2018 and 1988. We begin in the story’s present as Audra, a student at The Boston Institute for the Visual Arts is waiting outside the lecture hall…
Right now, faculty from across departments and disciplines are gathered in there, having their second and final all-faculty meeting of the academic year. I’m out here because Max Durant is in there. My handsome professor. My dedicated mentor. Professor Durant told me before class this morning that I should wait for him after the meeting. He told me he wanted to see me. That we should talk. Maybe even grab dinner. I let him know he could look for me when he got out.
The first alarm bells clang! Do we have a story of a randy goat of a professor preying on his students? Hmm… maybe. Durant is a big name in the US scene, but his best years of painting are behind him – else why would he be teaching now?
Later Max takes over the narrative, and we’ve jumped locations. He is in a car driven by Audra, heading for her home in Maine, where she has been creating the art that will form her final works for graduation. Clang, clang again! She’s taking him to her home??? In the car he muses about Audra’s brilliance as an artist and turns to think about his own life as a younger artist:
I’d lived in Maine for two years, as a matter of fact–but as a much younger man. […] So much has grown in the space between me and that capricious boy so far down the tunnel of time that he feels almost entirely obscured from me, insignificant to the man and artist I’ve become. I didn’t tell Audra any of that because my experience here all those years ago holds realities she might consider a little ugly. I didn’t want to ruin our fun. […] So I’m treating this adventure like a clean slate, made just for me and her.
He’s definitely hoping to get into her pants!
The narrative is paused after another chapter to present the first painting in Audra’s thesis set. The painting incorporates found objects layered onto the canvas. Said objects are handwritten notes with fragments of writing on, all found in the ‘Dunn residence’. Descriptions of the paintings are spaced throughout the text, each a different picture, but always layered with these papers from this particular house which chronicle a life on the edge. It’s all very intriguing and sad.
Then we move back to 1988, and Juniper has just arrived at the Lupine Valley Arts Collective where she’ll teach this term. This artist’s community is in the wilds of Maine where artists and craftspeople come to work with like-minded others. Juniper has just broken up with her girlfriend Rita in DC, so she is glad to be back at Lupine Valley. Her name isn’t really Juniper though, everyone there has a nickname conferred upon them, and in coming chapters of this timeline, we’ll meet Old Gus, Ash, Moss and Coral amongst the staff and students. I liked the ambiguity this gave these characters.
Something happened back in 1988. Audra knows what it was. Max doesn’t know that and he has his own secrets. He also doesn’t know that Audra has plans for him… As we alternate between Audra and Max narrating in the present and Juniper in the past, we gradually build up the picture of the artists community life back then, its good times and then the bad, with glimpses of its legacy in the present.
While I did broadly work out what happened back then and what was likely to happen now, I enjoyed Lattari’s execution of her twisty plot, having to read on to test my hypotheses. What should have been happy creative times descend into darkness and mental torment. If you can cope with the dark themes, you may enjoy this debut thriller too. Do take a look at some of the others on the blog tour.
Source: Review copy – thank you. Titan Books, UK paperback original, 352 pages. BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link.