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BookBrowse Reviews Fake Like Me by Barbara Bourland

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Fake Like Me

by Barbara Bourland

Fake Like Me by Barbara Bourland X
Fake Like Me by Barbara Bourland
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2019, 368 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2020, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Jamie Chornoby
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Part satire, part thriller, Fake Like Me features a young painter struggling to meet the demands of her most challenging project in the shadow of a suspicious death.

After years of trying to make it as a painter in New York City, the unnamed narrator of Fake Like Me is accepted into a prestigious Parisian gallery. Seeing it as her shot at a successful career, she devotes everything to the project, creating seven billboard-sized oil paintings, a series she calls Rich Ugly Old Maids. But tens of thousands of dollars and two years into the project, her Manhattan loft catches fire. Everything, including the paintings, is lost. In a desperate scramble, she convinces the gallerist that only one painting was destroyed. She then decides to commit a risky act of art fraud, attempting to haphazardly replicate the seven massive paintings—some of which were already sold—on a nearly impossible deadline.

Without a home and without a studio, the painter networks her way into an artists' retreat, Pine City. Located in upstate New York, it promises the seclusion, discretion and space to create her paintings alongside a group of innovative artists. As the narrator begins to dive into her work, however, she learns about the mystery that looms over Pine City relating to the death of her idol, Carey Logan.

Three years prior to the narrator's arrival, star Pine City resident Carey Logan drowned herself in the retreat's lake. She was a sculptor and performance artist whose charisma, magnetism and heart attracted the admiration of art enthusiasts and artists alike. With work known for its emotion, impulse and controversy, Logan carved out an ambitious path for female artists to follow toward success. Although Logan is dead, evidence of her life and death taint Pine City. Suspiciously, the residents are hesitant to discuss her and recognize her work. Feeling feverish, overwhelmed, and stuck in the midst of her intense project, the narrator feels she must find out what really happened to Logan in order to finish Rich Ugly Old Maids and pull off her career's greatest triumph and greatest deceit.

As the narrator pushes herself to finish the unwieldy paintings and uncover the circumstances of Logan's death, readers see the dark, extravagant, messy side of the contemporary art scene. Parties are filled with ketamine and cocktails. Moments of romance and heartbreak surface after deaths, breakups and divorces. The work of artistic prodigies is marred by fraud and guilt. Throughout, Barbara Bourland's voice is sharp and satirical. She nudges readers to think about weighty topics: the formation of identity, the commodification of people, the desire to succeed, the pressure to be authentic and the potentially devastating consequences of greed.

Fake Like Me provides an insider's perspective on art and art culture. Through her narrator, Bourland describes the assiduous, grueling mechanics of making art—DIYing pigment blends, hauling thousands of pounds of equipment, packing layers and layers of paint onto an enormous canvas, negotiating with gallerists. This immersion into the art world also includes references to real-world artists, museums and projects, including multi-medium conceptual artist Lee Lozano (See Beyond the Book). It's also an unconventional thriller with an unreliable narrator that demands the reader's full attention, but provides plenty of rewards in exchange.

For more on Fake Like Me, check out Barbara Bourland's interview on the podcast Wine, Women & Writing.

Reviewed by Jamie Chornoby

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in July 2019, and has been updated for the March 2020 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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Beyond the Book:
  Lee Lozano's Dropout Piece

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