Seeking Salvador: Max Mitchell
Obsessions with objects, needs, preoccupations with feelings and ideas are not uncommon. The unwanted feeling or emotion is often accompanied with symptoms of anxiety. Sometimes the obsession deals with a habit that the person cannot break because they feel forced to smoke, drink or need the company of another person and cannot focus on the fact that they have been rejected. Other times it could be with an object or material thing they must have. Salvador Dali was one of the most prominent Spanish surrealist painters born in Figueres in Calalonia region of Spain. His paintings captured film, sculpture and photography. His most renowned piece completed in 1931 was titled Persistence of Memory. At times he would work in conjunction with other artists using different types of media in his work. He was obsessed with luxury and oriental clothes. His paintings were often quite graphic, quite explicit and are the theme for this interesting novel titled Seeking Salvador by Max Mitchell. Students in school learning about the masters should be able to explore the many different paintings, artwork and more created by any artist. His work was quite different than Picasso or Monet and created quite a stir when students and adults viewed them. Some of the pictures included familiar or everyday objects placed or set in humorous or strange settings. Some could be the same object or two or more unrelated images placed side by side and what is viewed is the unexpected.
His muse or his inspiration was his wife Gala and the main character within this story, Helen McTaggart, has become not only obsessed with this work but at times envisions him speaking to her, standing in front of her and creates conversations between her and the great artist that gives readers much insight in her failing personality and insecurities. Wanting to be more like Gala and hoping she can or could have become the muse or inspiration of this great painter, Helen becomes so fixated on him that she explores his work, brings pictures of his paintings to school hoping to encourage her students to want to explore more artists, learn more about his work and create reviews for the many paintings whose pictures they have seen.
All too often the innocent suffer for the guilty you might say and here is where our story takes a downhill spiral. Helen is so enthralled with this painting she loses sight of everything else. Married to a police man whose mother takes ill she is forced to live in a small town in New Mexico whose population is quite narrow minded, stilted and whose opinions mirror those in charge and whose defense she needs when things start to heat up and she is falsely accused. Presenting these pictures for review by her students the parents, principal and board become inflamed and threaten to fire her labeling Helen as a sex offender. Those she counts on to help her and reinforce and support her do not. Her husband encourages her to take a trip to Spain to free herself of the stress and see the great paintings of this artist first hand. Hoping to enlist the company of her best friend she does not. Instead she is forced to take the one person in her family, her 17-year-old cousin Tracy who appears to be a misfit. Throughout the trip we learn more about Tracy, her attitude and soon realize that she just might be the one person to turn things around for Helen and give her the push to change her life but is it going to be for the better.
Visiting the Dali Museum in Figueres, Helen and Tracy meet Andre. Handsome, a smooth talker and definitely quite dark, we hear his voice, understand his passion for art but wonder what he is really about deep down. Tracy seems to feel that his company would benefit Helen and encourages her to see more of him, go on a date with him to explore her true feelings for her life with Steven and whether she might stay in Spain. Can viewing a painting really change your life? When she discusses Orpheus Lost she gets more of an insight into Gala’s role and Andre’s interpretation of why Gala was in control of him and how Dali was the one who was lost. Seems like Helen is too and before all is said and done she might find herself in a tangled maze with so many twists and turns she might need a museum guide to show her the way out.
Each scene always has a flash into her inner most thoughts regarding her encounters with Dali. But, each vision, nightmare or dream ends with her either ridiculed, yelled at our put down by this artist for not being young enough, smart enough or having the right qualities to be his muse or anything else. Helen’s insecurities come through and when she returns home you can hear it in her every conversation that she is unhappy with her life and intends to make a drastic change. But, when Andre shows her his valuable collection and states that maybe she will help steal one from the Dali museum she does not realize that he is being serious and decides it is time to leave his apartment after staying the night.
The plot thickens as she is charged as a sex offender, decides to help steal a Dali and then gets entangled in a web so deceitful that you won’t believe what happens to Helen, where she winds up and the honest truth about Andre and more. The author describes the scene in the museum so vividly that you can feel the tension, the electricity in the air and the heart stopping moments when Helen realizes just what she has done and the end result. But, who is Andre? What does he really do and why did he single her out? With the help of her cousin Tracy she hopes to get out of this safely, her insurance policy to make sure he does not stick it to her you won’t believe and ending that will surprise you. What Helen does is quite clever and where the real painting winds up you have to find out for yourself. Helen learns a lot about herself and the reader will not believe the twist that she pulls at the end. Andre/Steve or someone else? Modeling or teaching or both? Where does Helen see her life and where will she live? Will she get her named cleared and why does Andre steal and who is paying him to do it? What about the funds to keep the museums opened? Enter the world of art and learn about forgeries, thievery and one woman’s passion to find, impress and hopefully seek Dali and gain his respect.
Author Max Mitchell gives readers much pause for thought as we meet Helen, learn about her insecurities, her determination to change her life and the end result that will surprise everyone. Lies, betrayals, deceits and one woman’s obsession that changes many lives.
Fran Lewis: reviewer : Will Dali get his painting back? Find out when you read this book.