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Elizabeth MacKinnon moves to Saint John New Brunswick in 1939 to find inspiration for her poetry in the bohemian life of the city's central peninsula. Swept up in the vibrant society of the city's poets, painters, potters, dancers, and playwrights, she finds herself joining their struggles to make sense of making art in a time of economic depression.
Inhabiting the lives of the artists who find themselves in the port city taking refuge from the Depression, Lay Figures explores relationships between art and lived experience, artist and subject, artist and audience, and between margins and centre, and traces the development of a young female writer against the backdrop of the Depression and early war years in Saint John. In a story that couples bitter despair with exuberant triumphs, Elizabeth and her fellow artists make life-changing discoveries about politics and social responsibility, desire and betrayal.
“Lay Figures is beautifully written. Blagrave’s prose flows easily and is full of robust descriptions of both the cityscape and landscape…[his] descriptions are evocative and vivid, enveloping readers in sensory language…. Above all, Lay Figures provides a fascinating look into what Blagrave rightly labels “the under-sung city of Saint John.”… A captivating commentary on art and creation, love, lust, and betrayal, social disparity, and the cultural history of the Maritime region.”
–The Miramichi Reader
“Lay Figures is a rich, satisfying, and enormously entertaining reading experience. [It] presents the lucky reader with both the glamour and the grit of art making while staying true to the plain, very unromantic fact that artists are not born, they are made…. Vivid, evocative, well-written, and beautiful.”
“Lay Figures is a richly imagined novel set in Depression-era Saint John, where the vivid world of artists comes to life, their loves and losses shaping what they create. With war changing the destinies of those around her, the young writer Elizabeth MacKinnon searches for a subject that will allow her to realize her potential. Her exploration of what inspires art, for herself and for others, makes for a very compelling read.”
–Anne Simpson, author of Speechless
“Novels about the lives of artists rarely get it right. Mark Blagrave's Lay Figures is a rich, enormously entertaining exception. Like Atwood's Cat’s Eye or Corbeil’s In the Wings, Lay Figures presents the lucky reader with both the glamour and the grit of art making while staying true to the plain, very un-romantic fact that artists are not born, they are made. The questions and challenges faced by Blagrave's artists are eternal, and more vital today than ever. Saint John is Canada's Atlantis: a once thriving cultural hub whose contributions to Canada and the world are too often forgotten. Lay Figures brings the era and the city that was back to vibrant, sexy life.”
–RM Vaughan, poet, essayist, and author of Bright Eyed
“Just as great pressure creates diamonds, the Great Depression squeezes some ambitious, cosmopolitan artists back into their hometown. WWII looms and Saint John, with its contrast of old-money gentility and proletarian grit, seems an unlikely place to create art that will shine in the world outside. But the artists find that the city ignites their talents in ways that Paris, New York, and Chicago didn't. A bohemian procession of writers, models, actors, directors, and artisans are drawn to the energy that radiates from the studios, where the artists work, socialize, engage in sexual intrigues, and—with urgency and without apology—argue the purpose of art in a world where commerce and war rule. In Elizabeth, Mark Blagrave places the perfect participant/observer in the centre of this turbulent cast of characters.”
–Costas Halavrezos, host of the “Book Me!” podcast.
“Mark Blagrave is a superb stylist, and his novel Lay Figures is an intoxicating love letter to a salty Maritime city and its misfit community of poets and painters and dreamers.”
–Mark Anthony Jarman, author of Knife Party at the Hotel Europa