Books: Chinese Takeout

Independent on Sunday (London)
February 27, 2005, Sunday



[parts omitted]

Chinese Takeout
By Arthur Nersesian

Set among the bohemian art crowd of New York’s lower east side in the
run-up to the 2000 presidential election, Chinese Takeout is a baggy
but agreeable novel about the life of a struggling painter, with an
obvious nod to Bukowski and echoes of Orpheus and Eurydice. Our self-
obsessed narrator is Orloff Trenchant, an Irish-Armenian New Yorker
who is in his mid-30s, just old enough to remember when loft space
was affordable. He lives in his dilapidated van for most of the year,
and supplements the income he makes from his paintings by selling
secondhand books in the street. The story finally gets going when he
falls for a heroin-addicted poet and attempts to rescue her from her
drugs and prostitution hell.

Orr had a successful solo show early in his career, but his saleability
has declined and his youthful idealism dissipated. Though there’s a
bit of room to satirise art-world pretensions, Nersesian generally
takes an ultra-realist’s approach to depicting his milieu, and
Chinese Takeout contains enough detail about the mundane problems
Orr has to deal with to sustain his hand-to-mouth existence to belie
the romantic myth of the starving artist. And while he may describe
Orr’s struggle to make a living in mock-heroic terms, he makes it
clear that if we don’t all maintain a few hopes, dreams and ideals,
our cities can become cruel places.