The Vexations (Hardcover)
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A kaleidoscopic debut novel about love, family, genius, and the madness of art, circling the life of eccentric composer Erik Satie and La Belle Époque Paris, from a writer who is "wildly entertaining" (San Francisco Chronicle), "startlingly ingenious" (Boston Globe), and "impressively sharp" (New York Times Book Review).
Erik Satie begins life with every possible advantage. But after the dual blows of his mother's early death and his father's breakdown upend his childhood, Erik and his younger siblings -- Louise and Conrad -- are scattered. Later, as an ambitious young composer, Erik flings himself into the Parisian art scene, aiming for greatness but achieving only notoriety.
As the years, then decades, pass, he alienates those in his circle as often as he inspires them, lashing out at friends and lovers like Claude Debussy and Suzanne Valadon. Only Louise and Conrad are steadfast allies. Together they strive to maintain their faith in their brother's talent and hold fast the badly frayed threads of family. But in a journey that will take her from Normandy to Paris to Argentina, Louise is rocked by a severe loss that ultimately forces her into a reckoning with how Erik -- obsessed with his art and hungry for fame -- will never be the brother she's wished for.
With her buoyant, vivid reimagination of an iconic artist's eventful life, Caitlin Horrocks has written a captivating and ceaselessly entertaining novel about the tenacious bonds of family and the costs of greatness, both to ourselves and to those we love.
About the Author
Caitlin Horrocks is the author of the story collection This Is Not Your City and a recipient of the O. Henry Prize, the Pushcart Prize, and the Plimpton Prize. Her fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, the Paris Review, Tin House, One Story, and elsewhere and has been included in The Best American Short Stories. She lives with her family in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
"I've rarely seen a debut as buoyant and inspired as Caitlin Horrocks's The Vexations. In language both champagne-clear and effortlessly lively, Horrocks plumbs the world of Erik Satie through those closest to him, the siblings, friends, and lovers who struggle to support and understand him even as his obsessions isolate and score him deeper than anyone can reach. As much about the vexations and impossibilities of life itself as about Satie's singular genius, this is a dazzling first novel from a writer to watch."—Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife and Love and Ruin
"I've loved Caitlin Horrocks's work for a long time, so I am not surprised--though I am overjoyed--to find that she has written a gorgeous, sensitive, deeply immersive novel in The Vexations. You'll never hear the music of Erik Satie again without diving back into the layers of genius, torment, eccentricity, abandonment, and profound sadness that Horrocks so masterfully evokes in this beautiful book."—Lauren Groff, National Book Award finalist and New York Times bestselling author of Fates and Furies and Florida
"Genius blazes in this gorgeous and breathtakingly assured novel -- sometimes center-stage, sometimes in a corner -- but there are no satellites: seldom have I read a book about art that refuses so staunchly to treat any life as minor. The Vexations is a rare, engrossing, humane achievement."—Garth Greenwell, National Book Award nominee for What Belongs to You
"The Vexations does what the best historical fiction must: it takes us beyond biography to the secret intimacies that make up a life. We're granted access not just to the full and heartbreaking life of Erik Satie, but to a range of vibrant, deeply human characters -- his wounded sister, Louise; his dutiful brother, Conrad; and the visionary artists in his circle at the Chat Noir. Among these is a young poet named Philippe, whose work Satie sets to the piano, though Satie's 'arrangements didn't highlight his poetry so much as make it strange.' In this ambitious, surprising, and immensely moving novel, Caitlin Horrocks does the same for the music of Erik Satie, making it strange, making it new."—Eleanor Henderson, New York Times bestselling author of Ten Thousand Saints
"What a fabulous, original novel The Vexations is. Its unflinching honesty about an artistic world notable for both heart and heartlessness has given us a haunting, indelible story."—Joan Silber, author of the National Book Critics Circle Award winner Improvement
"Horrocks shines while envisioning Erik scoring a silent film, debuting a masterpiece, or being released from jail (where he was held for defaming a reviewer) so he can complete a commission. Horrocks's description of Satie's music is also apt for her noteworthy novel: slow, spare, and at its best finely filigreed."—Publishers Weekly
"Horrocks paints an atmospheric portrait of bohemian Paris and a poignant one of Satie and his avant-garde circle, who "lived in the yet: not now, but soon" when their art would be recognized...Finely written and deeply empathetic, a powerful portrait of artistic commitment and emotional frustration."—Kirkus
Praise for THIS IS NOT YOUR CITY:
"Wildly entertaining... These are delicate, character-driven stories whose distinct narrators demonstrate the hand of a remarkably versatile writer...Caitlin Horrocks is writing well beyond her years, not only raising our expectations of what a story can do but also setting a high standard for any debut fiction author."—Wayne Harrison, San Francisco Chronicle
"Startlingly ingenious writing...Many of the stories have a note of what could be called sprightly heartbreak...Horrocks's is a formidably promising imagination."—Richard Eder, Boston Globe
"Impressively sharp...Appealingly rugged-hearted...Though diverse in style and point of view, Horrock's stories share one consuming fixation. We live in a world studded with cruelty...But she deploys love and humor as convincingly as dread."—Robin Romm, New York Times