Reviews > Published on September 14th, 2015

Bookshots: 'The Suicide of Claire Bishop' by Carmiel Banasky

Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review


The Suicide of Claire Bishop

Who wrote it:

Designed to provoke questions and not guaranteed to give answers, but an interesting ride all the same.

Accomplished writer and teacher Carmiel Banasky, who hails from Oregon.

Plot in a Box: 

In 2004, a young man discovers a painting that appears to have been created by his ex-girlfriend. The problem is that his ex-girlfriend is in her twenties, and said painting is dated to 1959.

Invent a new title for this book:

Portrait of a Fragment

Read this if you liked:

The Hours by Michael Cunningham

Meet the book's lead:

A disenfranchised woman living in the earlier half of the twentieth century named Claire. The other half of the story is told by West, a young and troubled schizophrenic.

Said lead would be portrayed in a movie by:

West makes me think of a dysfunctional Elijah Wood in Wilfred, and I could see Cate Blanchett as Claire.

Setting: Would you want to live there?

Claire Bishop takes place predominantly in New York City in both the sixties and early 2000’s. I could do that.

What was your favorite sentence?

I loved her so much I could rip out my collarbone.

The Verdict:

Claire Bishop is an unhappy woman. Banasky’s novel begins with a portrait session in the comfortable quarters Claire and her husband share in the West Village, but it soon becomes clear that the luxuries Claire enjoys are part of a vast and suppressed misery. She has no job or close family to fall back on, a distant and uninterested husband. So when the artist tasked with painting Claire’s portrait reveals a vivid depiction of her suicide instead, it’s enough to sufficiently frighten her into leaving behind her current life.

From this point on, The Suicide of Claire Bishop is divided between two perspectives; that of Claire in the sixties, and the voice of a young schizophrenic from 2004 named West. After a slight adjustment, both sides of the story are engaging in their own regard, but I did find the first shift between them to be somewhat jarring. The tone and even the tense is radically different, especially considering that West sees the world from such a unique viewpoint (he once lost his position as a network setup technician for “doing too beautiful of a job”).

Claire herself is often unmoored, vague, and I found her to be difficult to understand. While there are some larger forces at work propelling the plot forward, her motivations eluded me. It’s not necessarily a negative thing even, just puzzling— like reading a cryptic poem that you enjoy despite or because of its arcane language. Why does Claire order the painting destroyed then suddenly want it back so badly that she’s willing to go to jail for stealing it?

The significance of many of these actions seemed more symbolic than character-driven. It doesn't feel like too much of a jump to assume that Claire’s attempts to control the painting correlate to her desire to control her own fate. Depicting the sitter sliced into a thousand pieces and falling through time, the painting itself sounds intriguing. A woman falling to pieces; is it commentary on the female body being a collection of parts? I’m not sure. This is what The Suicide of Claire Bishop does best— it makes you unsure.

Claire Bishop reads like one of the Beatnik “Happenings” it describes; at times more performance art than anything else, designed to provoke questions and not guaranteed to give answers, but an interesting ride all the same.

About the author

Leah Dearborn is a Boston-based writer with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in international relations from UMass Boston. She started writing for LitReactor in 2013 while paying her way through journalism school and hopping between bookstore jobs (R.I.P. Borders). In the years since, she’s written articles about everything from colonial poisoning plots to city council plans for using owls as pest control. If it’s a little strange, she’s probably interested.

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