Criticism & Features

Year 2019: 30 Books

Feast Your Eyes by Myla Goldberg: 2019 Fiction finalist

By Marion Winik

Feast Your Eyes by Myla Goldberg (Scribner) Feast Your Eyes by Myla Goldberg (Scribner)

Never have the consequences of one mistake in judgment — nor the challenges of being a single mother and an artist – been more vividly brought to life than they are in Myla Goldberg’s ingenious fifth novel. Feast Your Eyes is presented as an exhibition catalog for the work of a fictional mid-century New York photographer named Lillian Preston, purportedly assembled by her daughter Samantha. When Samantha was a girl, she was the subject of a series of nude photos so controversial it landed her mother in jail and led to their permanent estrangement.

Using interviews with Lillian’s friends and excerpts from her journals and letters, Samantha pieces together the trajectory of her mother’s life — the story of a quiet, unassuming girl from Cleveland who became an obsessive renegade street and art photographer in Manhattan of the ’50s ’60s and ’70s, engaging along the way issues of free speech and obscenity, women’s rights and abortion. By the time the catalog is complete, she is finally able to see her mother for who she really was.

In the words of critic Dave Wheeler, “Art can be a dangerous endeavor for creator and viewer alike; the greater the response, the more effective the piece. Feast Your Eyes inhabits this tension with immense grace and empathy, challenging the perennial urge to stifle what doesn’t conform to a given community’s standards.” To develop a narrative that illuminates this theme, Goldberg took inspiration from the biographies of Sally Mann, Diane Arbus, Vivian Maier, Helen Levitt, and Grace Paley. She has managed to create a character who seems as real as any of them, and may be remembered by readers as long.

As Donna Seaman wrote in Booklist, “This is a novel of infinite depth, of caring authenticity both intimate and societal, of mothers and daughters, art and pain, and transcendent love.”

— Marion Winik