Tracking the mysterious life and death of her role model, the unnamed narrator in Barbara Bourland’s Fake Like Me discovers how to follow her own lead.
A painter almost loses her chance at a successful career when her Manhattan studio-home burns. She has a summer to remake the paintings in her “Rich Old Ugly Maids” series or else she’s done for as an artist. She jumps at the chance to live and work at an artists’ retreat called Pine City in upstate New York, where her heroine, sculptress turned performer Carey Logan, lived and died. The narrator’s ability to complete her project depends on finding out what happened to Carey.
Fake Like Me roars with creative impulse. Bourland captures the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants nature of the narrator’s artistic life with whirlwind descriptions of gallery shows, love affairs and hard work both in the studio and out. Intensity ratchets up in novel’s middle, as she hunkers down to get her summer job done. When asked at a Pine City party whether her art is political, she answers, “I make things that are emotional. . . . And it’s all that I am.” Her work is huge and unwieldy, an exploration of the seven virtues: prudence, humility, chastity, modesty, temperance, purity and obedience. Like Polish director Krzysztof Kieślowsk’s TV series “The Decalogue,” “Rich Old Ugly Maids” turns religious concepts inside out with visceral attack.
As the narrator grapples artistically with these concepts, she also grapples with the inner workings of life at Pine City. The more she knows the artists there, she begins to questions them and the relationships she thought would provide guidance. Questions lead to an urge to act in the only way an artist knows. The writing becomes fierce and urgent, the fine line between creation and destruction blurred. The climax comes as summer ends, and this up-and-coming painter risks all to make a final splash in the dangerous waters of the upper-echelon art world.
Part thriller, part performance art and wholly revolutionary, Fake Like Me confronts American art culture with female bravado.