The Vanishing Point

Elizabeth Brundage

What’s the difference between literary and popular fiction? One wag suggested that literary fiction has little or no plot. Another opined that popular fiction isn’t well written. And some wise guys contend that literary fiction is defined by lousy sales.

Elizabeth Brundage writes lovely descriptions of places and people with a great plot and I consider The Vanishing Point (Little brown $28 pp 320) a great crossover. Returning to my prior theme about one of the joys of reading is the discovery of new worlds, Vanishing Point is quite an introduction into artistic photography. It’s not just pointing your camera (phone these days) and clicking.

When the book opens Rye Adler has died. He was famous for his portraits of celebrities, but his earlier artistic work was shooting the poor in third world countries, capturing the crevices in their haggard faces and the despair of their lives. A photograph of his one-time classmate taken in college, beautiful Magda in the nude, was the leading peace a major New York exposition before his death.

Rye’s former school roommate, Julian Ladd, is struggling in his marriage, unhappy in his successful advertising career, and jealous of Rye’s acclaim. We see a long chapter of Julian’s misery as he drives to Rye’s funeral. He surprisingly comes to Rye’s house for the post-service reception, lingers and winds up spending the night although Rye’s widow finds him weird and wants him to leave.

Brundage eases into the subplot of Julian’s son, Theo, who is a heroin addict and has flunked out of college. Anyone with children will find it heartbreaking.

The writing style is super modern with little punctuation, at times a little hard to follow but as you read on you realize that she is working with a really outstanding plot that draws you into truly memorable characters. The unforgettable characters line is shopworn in book reviews and jacket covers, but I promise you will never forget Magda, Julian, Rye, and Theo.

It’s an A plus and I intend to find her prior works for my winter reading.