It's been said that behind every great man there's a woman, but Adrienne Miller kicks it up a notch
The Coast of Akron
by Adrienne Miller
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 390 pp., $25It's been said that behind every great man there's a woman, but Adrienne Miller kicks it up a notch with Jenny, an ambitious young painter who falls in love with wannabe artist Lowell Haven, loses her ability to paint anyone but him, and allows him to sign all her paintings, skyrocketing him to Warhol-esque fame as a self-portraitist and leading to Lowell's affair with Jenny's best friend, Fergus. But that's only the backstory. The real protagonist is Merit, Jenny and Lowell's now-grown daughter, whose identity crisis plays out against those of her aging parents (and "Uncle" Fergus). Miller has a talent for idiosyncratic details (the Havens live in a castle in Ohio; Merit's statistician husband compulsively catalogues tire brands in parking lots), leaving it hard at times to find enough context to support them all, and while her use of symbolism is imaginative and sly, it's also frustrating when it drives the action rather than deriving from it. That said, who's not a sucker for idiosyncratic detail and rich symbolism? It's all worth it for lines like this: "I love him as if he were me. And Lowell loved me, too. How much? So much that he called me, 'Me.'"