Young Mother with Red Hair

Fiction - Literary
295 Pages
Reviewed on 12/29/2020
Buy on Amazon

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    Book Review

Reviewed by Jon Michael Miller for Readers' Favorite

Young Mother with Red Hair by M.A. Dunn is a masterpiece. The author set up a writing challenge, which—if completed successfully—could be nothing else but miraculous. The chosen form, however, is daring. The woman with red hair (and freckles) is Jane Smith, an English teacher on maternity leave, married to Michael, a scholar specializing in Thomas Hardy. Vivian Young, a master portrait artist on the level of Rodin, attends one of Michael’s lectures and happens to sit beside Jane, is taken with her, and asks her to sit for him. Michael’s favorite painter happens to be Mr. Young, and he eagerly encourages Jane to accept the offer. So, here is the writing challenge: Jane is to compose a long letter to Michael describing her time posing—and much more—with the world-renowned artist. The letter is to be written in the first person, completely from Jane’s point of view as if she can possibly recall exact conversations, precise actions, exact meals, and fleeting glances from months past, requiring significant suspension of disbelief from the reader. And Dunn must make it all readable. And we readers—and in this case fabulously fortunate ones—get to read the letter over her shoulder. Not many writers would be brave enough to attempt such an approach. But here Dunn’s frank, honest, exquisite account of Jane’s actions and her feelings about them is simply mind-bendingly superb. Add to that Dunn's flawless and elegant prose, and we have an extraordinary triumph. And this humble book reviewer has the great privilege of telling the world!

“It’s a strange world, this world of Vivian…,” Jane writes. Early on, as Jane reclines nude before him, Vivian slyly recounts the myth of Nyssia, a wife whose husband admires her beauty so intensely he can’t resist showing her off to his best friend; the wife, angered at being treated as a visual object, joins in her husband’s murder and marries the friend. Vivian is infamous for his many lovers (“I eat when I’m hungry,” he propounds). Jane’s experience with the artist grows increasingly complex as do her feelings for her husband. She enters this “strange world” of paints, canvases, betrayal, hedonism, affairs, endless studio sittings, and above all, art—and is soon seduced by it all. The book is unabashedly erotic as Jane uninhibitedly writes of her sexuality and its web of feelings and complications.

I felt a bit of a voyeur reading over Jane’s shoulder, but Dunn fuses the sex into the milieu of sensations on the level of the finest literature. I often forgot that the “you” of the novel is Jane’s husband, not I, the reader, but the first-person account of Jane’s often anguished personal growth and its raw honesty, drew me in so that I often forgot it was a letter to her husband and not to the reader. Yes, in our canon of great literature, there’s Lady Chatterley, and now there’s Jane Smith, Young Mother with Red Hair. Dunn superbly meets the challenge of this innovative approach where few writers would dare to tread. The result is magnificent.

Edith Wairimu

Told in the first person, Young Mother with Red Hair by M. A. Dunn is a literary work that follows the period in a young teacher’s life as she poses for a renowned painter. Despite her hesitance at first, Jane begins to pose for Vivian Young while on maternity leave through her husband’s encouragement. The experience allows her to look back and assess different parts of her life from her childhood, her relationship with her family, motherhood, and her marriage to Michael. Jane is introduced to Vivian Young’s world of fame which she comes to learn is set on different ideals inconsistent with her own, and which will always regard her as an outsider. With every session that she poses for the painter, she begins to doubt her understanding of her own life.

Beyond offering a glimpse into the life and perspective of an icon, Young Mother with Red Hair by M. A. Dunn is an intriguing, honest look into Jane’s life as she evaluates intimate parts of herself. While the book begins with a possibly predictable character, Jane unravels different parts of herself that she did not know existed as the story unfolds. I liked that the story is told in the first person which allows Jane’s viewpoint and character to be established throughout the novel. Even though written as a monologue, other characters’ views and identities such as Michael's and Vivian's are also well explored. Young Mother with Red Hair by M. A. Dunn is a candid, introspective analysis of the main character’s life and decisions.

Romuald Dzemo

Young Mother with Red Hair by M. A. Dunn follows Jane, a married woman and a teacher on maternity leave and who, during this time, is spending long hours naked before Vivian Young, one of the most famous artists in London. Young has a peculiar way of relating to his models, always getting under their skin before painting them. In a vivacious and somewhat evocative tone, Jane shares her thoughts, her experiences, emotions, and understanding of this unique experience with Michael. It is an inward journey that is fascinating and compels the protagonist to look back at events of her life differently. Follow her as she re-evaluates her life under the penetrating gaze of an artist with deft hands.

M. A. Dunn has crafted this multilayered story in a style that is original, a monologue addressed to a significant person in the life of the protagonist. It is laced with streams of consciousness, and the narrator evokes important moments of her life with the key characters — Michael and Vivian. It is filled with introspection told in first and second person voices that come across as observant and bold. Young Mother with Red Hair explores the deep connection between the protagonist and the man she loves. In the studio, there is more than just modeling. A woman allows herself to be naked in the eyes of the painter and her self-consciousness and how the painter makes her feel are beautifully captured. This is a story of self-discovery, one that presents art as a medium of understanding sexuality and womanhood. The characters are well-developed, especially Jane, Michael, and Vivian. The prose is excellent and the story has a strong emotional and psychological depth. Themes of art, love, womanhood, and romance are well-developed.