Growing up in the shadow of his larger-than-life father—the artist Bear Bavinsky—Pinch has always been in the role of admirer. It’s the role, in fact, of nearly everyone in Bear’s orbit: his many wives and lovers, his 17 children, his ardent fans. They admire his work, marvel at his big personality and ignore his infidelities and shortcomings as a parent of children scattered around the globe.
Pinch grows up in Rome, his mother a Canadian potter who manages to beguile Bear for a few years before he decamps for New York and his next family. Pinch is a quiet boy, not fully embraced by the Italian children in his neighborhood because of his exotic North American background and unorthodox family. He turns to the canvas, first mimicking his father’s distinctive style before finding his own point of view. By the time he is a gawky 15-year-old, he is painting daily, his own kind of awkward teenage love affair. “Pinch hesitates at the brink—then kisses color to canvas, first a peck, bristles probing as he stoops to the easel, which he has not yet raised to his new adolescent height.”
But then Pinch brings a painting to New York for Bear’s assessment.
“Son of mine, I think the world of you. You know that,” Bear tells him. “So I got to tell you, kiddo. You’re not an artist. And you never will be.”
Pinch tucks his canvases away, settling into a life of academia, only returning to painting decades later in a risky attempt to cement the Bavinsky legacy—his father’s and his own.
Tom Rachman is the author of the indescribably good 2010 bestseller The Imperfectionists. The Italian Teacher is another superbly poignant novel featuring deeply imperfect people making deeply human decisions. It is about loyalty, the power and pretension of art and, most of all, the ties that bind.