This historical novel reads like a labor of love. Or, of two loves, to be precise: art and baseball. Retired lawyer Arthur D. Hittner, who has written extensively on both art of the ‘30s and ‘40s and of baseball, incorporates both in “Artist, Soldier, Lover, Muse.” Inspired by the short, tragic life of little-known painter Harold J. Rabinovitz, it features fictional Henry J. Kapler, who defies his émigré father and heads to New York in 1936 to pursue a career as an artist. In this heady time for art, Henry meets some Modernist artistic stars, and witnesses some historic baseball. He also makes an artistic splash, along with an amorous mash-up. These all play out against the specter of looming war, and Jewish pacifist Henry must decide what to do against the Nazi threat. This is a rewarding, pleasurable read. Hittner writes knowledgeably and discerningly. Including historic artists, movements, baseball players, and the political setting, he lets us dip into a vibrant period.
Freshly graduated from Yale, Henry J. Kapler parlays his talent, determination, and creative energy into a burgeoning art career under the wing of painters such as Edward Hopper and Reginald Marsh. The young artist first gains notoriety when his painting of a symbolic handshake between a young, African-American baseball player and his Southern white rival is attacked by a knife-wielding assailant while on display at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington. Yet even as his art star rises, Henry’s personal life turns precarious—and perilous—when his love for Fiona, a young WPA muralist, collides with his growing attraction to the exquisitely beautiful Alice, an ex-chorus girl who becomes his model and muse. Alice is the girlfriend of Fiona’s cousin, Jake Powell, the hotheaded, hard-drinking outfielder for the New York Yankees whose jealousy explodes into abuse and rage, endangering the lives of all three. While Henry wrestles with his hopelessly complicated love life, he also struggles mightily to reconcile his pacifism with the rabid patriotism of his Jewish-Russian émigré father. As war draws near, Henry faces two difficult choices, one of which could cost him his life.
Arizona Daily Star