I’ve read a number of books with alternate structures which I’ve taken to in varying degrees, but there’s something about the art catalog format that really worked here. Lillian Preston was a single mother who left the Midwest to carve out a following with some degree of notoriety – somewhere between Diane Arbus and Sally Mann. Preston’s journal entries are mixed with notes from her daughter, as well with critical appraisals of her artwork, which is surprisingly effective, despite no actual images in the novel. This National Book Award shortlisted title really captures the struggles of balancing work and family, no matter how exotic your occupation. It got an almost unanimous thumbs up from our attendees.
ONE OF NPR’S BEST BOOKS OF 2019
2020 Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence Finalist
2019 National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist
2020 Chautauqua Prize Finalist
“A daringly inventive parable of female creativity and motherhood” (O, The Oprah Magazine) from Myla Goldberg, the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of Bee Season, about a female photographer grappling with ambition and motherhood—a balancing act familiar to women of every generation.
Feast Your Eyes, framed as the catalogue notes from a photography show at the Museum of Modern Art, tells the life story of Lillian Preston: “America’s Worst Mother, America’s Bravest Mother, America’s Worst Photographer, or America’s Greatest Photographer, depending on who was talking.” After discovering photography as a teenager through her high school’s photo club, Lillian rejects her parents’ expectations of college and marriage and moves to New York City in 1955. When a small gallery exhibits partially nude photographs of Lillian and her daughter Samantha, Lillian is arrested, thrust into the national spotlight, and targeted with an obscenity charge. Mother and daughter’s sudden notoriety changes the course of both of their lives, and especially Lillian’s career as she continues a life-long quest for artistic legitimacy and recognition.
“A searching consideration of the way that the identities and perceptions of a female artist shift over time” (The New Yorker), Feast Your Eyes shares Samantha’s memories, interviews with Lillian’s friends and lovers, and excerpts from Lillian’s journals and letters—a collage of stories and impressions, together amounting to an astounding portrait of a mother and an artist dedicated, above all, to a vision of beauty, truth, and authenticity. Myla Goldberg has gifted us with “a mother-daughter story, an art-monster story, and an exciting structural gambit” (Lit Hub)—and, in the end, “a universal and profound story of love and loss” (New York Newsday).
About the Author
Myla Goldberg is the bestselling author of Feast Your Eyes, The False Friend, Wickett’s Remedy, and Bee Season, which was a New York Times Notable Book, a winner of the Borders New Voices Prize, a finalist for the Hemingway Foundation/PEN award, and was adapted to film and widely translated.
“A daringly inventive parable of female creativity and motherhood."
—O, the Oprah Magazine
“Inventive ... Goldberg offers a searching consideration of the way that the identities and perceptions of a female artist shift over time."
—The New Yorker
“Wrenchingly intimate…Goldberg’s passionate depiction of Lillian rings heartbreakingly true at a moment when discussions of emotional labor dominate certain sectors of the media and writers like Kim Brooks and Claire Vaye Watkins write viral essays contemplating whether it is truly possible to be both an artist and a mother.”
—Joanna Rakoff, The New York Times
“Lively and vivid… Goldberg expertly differentiates the voices of [her characters] … fascinating.”
—Chris Hewitt, Minneapolis Star Tribune
“With cleverness and imagination, vivid historical detail and great heart, this catalog tells the story of Lillian's life…Lillian Preston also represents an exciting turn of events in the career of her creator, Myla Goldberg, [who] has reemerged with a stunning success, what feels like the book she was always meant to write...Through its intense focus on a series of photographs, a group of quirky characters and a particular time in our cultural history, Feast Your Eyes becomes a universal and profound story of love and loss.”
—Marion Winik, Newsday
“If you’re stuck in a reading rut, Feast Your Eyes will snap you right out of it.”
—Elizabeth Entenman, HelloGiggles
“Like a photograph that captures the inner light of its subject, Feast Your Eyes catches such moments on the page, illuminating the power of both beauty and heartbreak. Goldberg unsparingly reveals a driven artist whose propulsive talent is also her Achilles’ heel.”
"The action in Feast Your Eyes unfurls entirely in program notes for a retrospective of Lillian's work in the Modern Museum of Art — expect a mix of letters, analysis of Lillian's photographs, and commentary from Samantha, who's curating the exhibit. Through this collage comes a gripping portrait of Lillian: a fierce mother, a fierce artist, and a woman crucified for both."
“A mother-daughter story, an art-monster story, and an exciting structural gambit.”
“From Bee Season (2000) onward, Goldberg has portrayed girls and young women with fluent sensitivity. In her brilliantly structured fourth novel, she revisits the theme again, in the story of photographer Lillian Preston, who, chronically shy yet determined, flees Cleveland for New York in 1953 at 17 and becomes an accidental single mother at 19… This is a novel of infinite depth, of caring authenticity both intimate and societal, of mothers and daughters, art and pain, and transcendent love.”
—Donna Seaman, Booklist, STARRED
“A riveting portrait of an artist who happens to be a woman.”
—Kirkus Reviews, STARRED
“This story is feminist at its core ... A strong book club pick."
“Goldberg evocatively profiles a brilliant woman whose identities—as woman, artist, and mother—are inseparable from one another… a memorable portrait of one artist’s life.”
“Reading Myla Goldberg’s Feast Your Eyes reminded me of other unlikely adventure stories, like Hillary’s summit of the Himalayas, or Shackleton’s return from Antarctica. Only here the human constraints are still more challenging: making art as a single mother in a twentieth century dominated, and distorted, by men. This is an unflinching, deeply moving portrait of the artist, and a bravura performance in and of itself. I loved this book.”
—Joshua Ferris, author of Then We Came to the End and To Rise Again at a Decent Hour