Daniel Paisners Balloon Dog is a dark, comedic tale of nostalgia and legacy, prompting readers to reflect on what it means to leave a mark and what it takes to be swept away by the same currents that move nearly everyone. Discover the opinion of Doreen Sheridan!
Lem Devlin is tired of being surrounded by art that costs more than his whole life. Working for shipping and storage company Fine Artemis, he doesn’t care so much about the value placed on the beauty he sees every day. What bothers him is the casual consumerism that buys an extravagant work of art and then treats it like a commodity, a simple line in a wallet:
So Lem grabbed this stupid, beautiful, graceless idea. This savage idea. It wasn’t just high-end art theft, how he saw it. It wasn’t just an opportunity. No, it was also a statement, a protest – his way of saying, “Hey, this shit is screwed.” Ten million dollars for a giant balloon dog, maybe more, probably more, and the guy buying it isn’t even there to look at it.
What is that?
His company is responsible for the seasonal construction and deconstruction of the Balloon Dog sculpture by Jeff Koontz on the grounds of a private estate in Park City, Utah. Lem thinks that if he can get a team together and get started on the dismantling process a week early, it will give him a head start in hiding the sculpture until he can find a buyer for it, a who will truly appreciate art as it is meant to be seen. Plus, it’s not like the current owner would be around to see him steal it. Unfortunately for Lem’s best-laid plans, a whole group of people are hanging around the supposedly closed summer estate the day he arrives with his crew.
One such person is writer Harrison Klott, who published a widely acclaimed debut novel a few years ago but hasn’t done much in publishing since. He pays the bills by writing an advertisement for a plastic surgeon, but spends most of his days worrying about his teenage children and fantasizing about the beautiful Shari Braverman, a Facebook acquaintance whose family attends the same synagogue as the his. When his father unexpectedly bequeaths him a large sum of money, he doesn’t know what to do with the money, or even how to tell his wife Marjorie about it. Instead, he skims it in various places around their house, feeling a vague surprise when it finally fades from the forefront of his mind:
It is there and it is not there, all at the same time. It changed him and it didn’t change him. Basically the money went from whatever he was thinking about to something that was, almost as if he had momentarily lost the idea, and now that he was sitting uncomfortably in the middle of a Delta flight on Wednesday afternoon. from JFK to Salt Lake City, he takes the time to consider change. Really, he wants to understand what money has meant to him for the past two months, what it could mean to him in the future, if it means anything at all.
As Lem and Harrison’s paths cross, the two develop a bond that transcends class and expectations, even as they play a game of cat and mouse to survive. But perhaps the biggest problem they face is the nature of art and its price. What is the value of art kept away from the world? And how much can one pay for inspiration or, more urgently, freedom?
This literary crime novel interrogates the unexpected natures of crime and art, as our protagonists – and, in separate point-of-view chapters, Marjorie and Shari – grapple with the impermanence of life projects and what they can do to regain some control, if any, of their desired destinies. Wickedly humorous and often brutally derogatory, Balloon Dog is a critique of the upper classes that also confuses the pettiness and boredom of the less wealthy as they grapple with their midlife crises via infidelities and breaking the law, major and minor. Marjorie is perhaps the friendliest character here. She looks back on her life and wonders how the things she once enjoyed fell by the wayside (although, to be honest, the answer lies in raising children and meeting their varied needs and changing).
Overall, Daniel Paisner’s fourth solo novel is an elegant meditation on the place of disobedience, whether explicitly made into art or otherwise, in the lives of modern middle-aged people who do their best in uncertain times.
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