The novel received a starred review in Booklist today! Here it is:
Self-Portrait with Boy | Lyon, Rachel (Author) | Feb 2018. 384 p. Scribner, hardcover, $26.
Lu Rile is a struggling photographer working a series of minimum-wage jobs to pay for film and the rent for loft in a converted warehouse in early 1990s New York City. As an artistic exercise, she challenges herself to create a self-portrait a day. Self-Portrait #400, taken in front of her window, accidentally includes a child falling to his death from the building’s roof. Lu is horrified by the photo but also immediately recognizes that it is the best work she has ever made. Intending to show it to the boy’s parents and seek their permission to share the image, she instead finds herself under the weight of greif. Through Kate, Lu secures an opportunity to exhibit the photo and launch her career, but doing so will mean destroying their friendship. In her gripping first novel, Lyon sympathetically portrays Lu’s struggle to make this impossible decision and to deal with its repercussions.
Vol. 1 Brooklyn included Self Portrait with Boy among their roundup of novels to read in 2018! They write: "We’re always up for novels dealing with artists and the ethical quandaries in which they find themselves, and Rachel Lyon’s debut falls squarely into that category. Throw in a detailed portrait of 1990s New York, and you have our full attention."
I woke up this morning to find that me and my book appear in a lovely little feature in the Princeton Alumni Weekly, or PAW. A few of my cohort acquaintances have been featured in PAW over the years, for instance my good friend the comedienne Nikki Muller, and the remarkable playwright Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins. As a second-generation college graduate who had a difficult time in college, I feel a particular kind of emotion appearing alongside them in these pages.
What is such an emotion called? It's similar to how I felt sixteen years ago (!) when I was informed of my acceptance into that elite school in the first place. It's more complicated than gratification, prouder than humility, sadder somehow than pride. Perhaps there is a German word for it: the feeling of having been welcomed into a club where you never thought you'd be a member.
"When an ambitious young photographer captures an unthinkable tragedy—and creates an accidental masterpiece in the process—she is forced to make a choice that will define her future.
"Thick with the atmospheric grime of early 1990s New York, Lyon's haunting debut hinges on a single instant: the moment when recent art school graduate Lu Rile, broke and ruthless, sets up her camera for a self-portrait—the 400th in her series—and captures, by chance, the image of a little boy falling from the sky. The boy is Max Schubert-Fine, the 9-year-old son of Lu's upstairs neighbors, and now he is dead, having slipped off the roof of their building, a crumbling Brooklyn warehouse not officially zoned for tenancy. The building's motley crew of residents—all artists; who else could live there?—come together in the aftermath of the tragedy, rallying around Max's beautiful mother, Kate, and offering Lu, until now a loner, something like community. In the weeks that follow, Kate and Lu form an intense and complicated friendship, united in loneliness, held together by a flicker of unspoken attraction. But Lu doesn't tell Kate about the photograph of her son falling, the photograph that could—that will—fundamentally change the course of Lu's career, offering her an escape from both poverty and obscurity, a name and a paycheck. (God knows Lu, whose father is ailing, needs the money.) From its first sentences, the novel is hurtling toward its inevitable and nauseating conclusion as Lu chooses between her friendship and her art, a choice that wasn't ever really a choice at all. More than a book about art, or morality, it is a book about time: Lyon captures the end of an era. Lu, after this, for better and worse, will never be the person she was before the photograph. And as the warehouses get developed and the rents rise, the city won't ever be the same, either.
"Fearless and sharp."