REVIEW: War Paint by Sarah Black
There’s an art to love.
Mural artist Ben has come from Tel Aviv to Atlanta to work on a commission. A successful artist, he’s still lonely and isolated after his family’s rejection. Ben is charmed and surprised when local soldier Eli mistakes him for homeless and brings him a cup of coffee and a biscuit. This gesture opens the door. Eli is lost, trying to make sense of a future without the Army after a combat injury ends his career.
Art gives them a new language and a path forward. But lost men can reach out, desperate to hang on to anyone close. Is what they find together real, and the kind of love that will last?
Dear Sarah Black,
I enjoyed your recently published novella very much. Your words were singing to me again. In this story Eli and Ben meet when Ben is trying to decide what themes to incorporate into his mural (what he was hired to do) and Eli mistakes him for a homeless person and tries to feed him.
“Ben watched the old Buick dealership across the street being painted gunmetal gray. The building was three stories high, made of old brick with big plate-glass industrial windows. The previous layers of paint were heavy with lead, so there would be no blasting down to the soft old brick. It was sad, he thought, that the rosy clay would never again feel sunshine on its face. The bricks were in lockdown. His painted layer would be the last in a long line. It was also sad they were using gunmetal gray when he very specifically detailed it should be dove gray. Dove was several shades lighter, a gentle color with a hopefulness gunmetal was seriously lacking. Americans, he thought, were both obsessed with guns and unable to follow directions.
It took Ben a moment to realize this boy with his tired eyes and lined face was actually bringing him a biscuit and coffee. What was this? Maybe he was going to talk about being saved? “Well, thank you. I like biscuits.” It seemed lame, but Ben wasn’t really sure what was going on, and he didn’t want to seem too encouraging.”
Eli is drifting and trying to figure out the path forward in his life now since he can no longer serve in the Army after his injury. Meeting Ben shows him how his future work can be connected with art, if he so chooses.
“So what’s your essay about? Did you say?” Eli dropped the fork with a clatter. “I’ve got to figure out what to do next. Like, forever next. And I can’t think of a single thing. There is nothing I want to do. No place I want to go. It’s like, my life ended, but I forgot to die or something.” “Huh.” Ben gestured to the food. “Eat.”
Commentary about the art, about the artistic process and what artist may choose to do or not to do with their work, was incredibly insightful to me. This is not the first book by this writer that convinced me she must be knowledgeable about painting, but it feels like in this story the author spoke with even more sophistication.
And of course the men fall in love as well. Really, since this is an 88-page novella not that much happens outside of the romance. Eli is at a crossroads in the beginning, they choose to work their crossroads together, but it felt as if *so much* did happen and I think Black’s evocative writing is the main reason I felt like that.
It was very beautiful and worked almost perfectly for me. I even bought the falling in love after they met – something I rarely do – but once again the author made it work for me. Maybe because she did not tie the ending into a neat bow and there was a chance that their journey together may not work, but it just felt so believable to me that it would work.