The Art of Sufficient Conclusions, Sarah Dearing, 232 pgs, Mansfield Press, mansfieldpress.net, $19.95
Treading the line between fiction and reality, Sarah Dearing’s third novel, The Art of Sufficient Conclusions, draws heavily from the author’s own life and the discovery that her father, a silent film actor in 1920s England, was sold at the age of 10 as a model to a sculptor.
Abigail Strafe is Dearing’s stand- in: a disgraced former schoolteacher attempting to better understand herself and where she comes from by learning about the absentee father she barely knew. Abigail accompanies her boyfriend, geneticist Julian Sherwood, to London for a conference, and while there receives an opportunity to research her father’s life and the truth of his connection to the sculptor, the mysterious Mr. Osborne. While in London, Julian learns something rather profound about himself and abandons Abigail to the care of Martin, an old friend and colleague.
There’s a certain amount of earned cynicism that drives The Art of Sufficient Conclusions and this gives the narrative its punch. Like many without strong parental influences to guide them, Abigail has an unfortunately prevalent inner child that frequently gets in the way of her happiness. Julian’s own immaturity and inability to connect seems in many ways to match hers, leading to some rather infantile, quick-to-boil exchanges between the two of them. As a result of this, it’s difficult at first to sympathize with Abigail. Her better traits are sometimes overshadowed by her more antagonistic nature. Additionally, the historical “B” plot feels tacked into place and occasionally distracts from the primary narrative.
However, as an unexpected intellectual relationship blossoms between Abigail and Martin and the reasons for Abigail’s dismissal from teaching are revealed, Dearing’s deft hand for witty back-and-forth dialogue carves through to the core of the story and to the heart of Abigail’s character. (Andrew Wilmot)