Ayn Rand’s first novel, We the Living, ends on a tragic note when Leo Kovalensky renounces his integrity in what amounts to a spiritual suicide.
After his capacity for greatness is stifled by the Soviet regime, and his love for Kira Argounova is shattered by the discovery of her affair with Andrei Taganov, Leo embarks on the life of a gigolo.
Though Alexandra York captures the same kind of emotional devolution in her novel Crosspoints, her book begins when Leon Skillman, a gifted sculptor who once aspired to create heroic statues, has already renounced his integrity.
He is introduced to the reader as a guest and lover to a couple who is cruising the Greek Isles on their yacht.
Like Leo Kovalesnky, Leon Skillman has been disillusioned by the unfaithfulness of the woman he loved. Unlike Kovalensky, however, Skillman lives in America, so he is free to pursue a career path as a sculptor.
Nevertheless, fame and fortune in contemporary America are aligned with postmodern art, and in renouncing representational art as hopelessly naïve and outdated, Skillman panders to the standards of art patrons and critics, creating huge, rugged chunks of metal. His artwork channels his anger at the world into a universal sneer.
Born in America to Greek immigrants, Tara (whose full name, “Kantara,” refers to the weight used to balance a scale) has moved to Greece to pursue her career. After she meets Leon on the coast of the Cycladic Island, Tara is enchanted by Leon’s charm and assumes that his artwork matches his good looks.
Leon makes a bet with his wealthy hosts that he can seduce Tara within two weeks. But what begins as a sly joke turns into passionate romance, as Tara’s unfaltering devotion to the greatness of Ancient Greece rekindles Leon’s suppressed yearning for the genuine values he has relinquished.
Like Kira Argounova, who loves Leo for what he could be in a free country, Tara Niforous is attracted to Leon for what he might have been in a Romantic culture.
But the reality of Leon’s artwork and hedonistic lifestyle conflicts with the potential of what he could have been, and might yet become. True to her name, Tara has to weigh Leon’s worth on a moral scale.
In the interim, Tara’s longtime mentor Dimitrios Kokonas, a renowned scholar who shares Tara’s passion for Ancient Greece, is also vying for her love. A private man who has been hiding his feelings for Tara even from himself, Dimitrios is stirred into action by the prospect of losing her to Leon.
As marine archaeologists, Tara and Dimitrios live in an underwater world, where the treasures of Ancient Greece lie frozen in time. Their encounter with Leon whirls them into the living, contemporary world, where postmodern art violates all standards of beauty and harmony.
The title Crosspoints is a cross between “crossroads” and “turning points,” a neologism coined by Tara’s father Kostas, a Greek immigrant who owns a restaurant in Manhattan. Kostas has taught his three children about the magnitude of responsibility in making their choices at crucial points in their lives.
Thus Tara is using her father’s advice when she is faced with a choice between Leon and Dimitrios. Her younger brother Nicky, an aspiring artist, faces a choice between creating beautiful landscapes that will not sell, and abstract sculptures that will.
And youngest sister Kally has to choose between the alluring decadence of New York’s wealthy elite and her embarrassing, hardworking immigrant parents.
The most crucial choice in the story, however, is Leon’s. He is at the pinnacle of his career as an avant-garde artist, a celebrity who can create whatever he wishes and demand any price.
“You’ve always been one of us by instinct rather than on purpose,” says his fellow avant-garde artist and earthy lover Adria Cass. She understands the political purpose of their art: anarchy, to be replaced by global socialism.
“You’re one of us,” counters Dorina Swing, Nicky’s teacher, who paints in the tradition of Romantic Realism, “You’ve never belonged to them in your heart.”
Dorina is confident of Leon’s true inclinations after seeing one of his figure sketches. But Leon made only two statues in the tradition of Romantic Realism — while still a teenager.
One statue, The Promise, lies on the river floor, where Leon hurled it years ago. Can the one surviving statue, kept by Leon’s mother for over a decade, outweigh years of negating his capacity to create such a statue?
Leon’s enormous abstract pieces have become public landmarks and museum icons. Can the evidence of their existence be eliminated?
Leon’s actual adversary is himself: his own cynicism, and his malevolent view of a world that rewards nihilism and condemns beautiful artworks to obscurity. He vents his frustration at Tara: “The kind of art you love, that Nicky loves, that Dorina loves, that my mother loves, that I used to love... isn’t real. It has no place, no meaning and no relevance here on this earth. It’s too good, it’s too pure, it’s too beautiful and too rational, it’s not possible... here” (260).
Crosspoints is indeed “a novel of choice” as its subtitle suggests. Freedom of choice is a familiar topic in Rand’s writings and in Romantic fiction in general.
Self-redemption by a character who has willfully chosen evil, however, is not as familiar, and Crosspoints is a welcome attempt to tackle this subject.
But the novel is not only a vehicle for tackling esthetic and ethical issues. It is an exciting story that takes the reader on a tour to exotic places, from the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion to the Blue Mosque at Istanbul to Chesterwood, Massachusetts, the studio and summer home of master-sculptor Daniel Chester French (1850-1931).
There is also a colorful gallery of secondary characters. There is Kronan Hagen, a devoutly religious curator who accepts the loathsome obscenity of postmodern art into his museum as punishment for his imagined sins.
There is Blair Gothard, a wealthy heiress and art patron constantly on a search for new thrills. Looking at a postmodern art piece consisting of a wall covered with thousands of matches, Blair revels at the thought of lighting them all at once.
There is also Tara’s uncle Basilious, born in Aristotle’s birthplace of Stagirus, who commissioned an oversized statue of Aristotle as a gift for his village, only to find out that the statue is stored in the basement of the church.
The new location Basilious finds for the statue is one the novel’s best surprises and a note of hope for the future of contemporary art.
Whether you are looking for a sobering discussion of intellectual, esthetic issues or an enjoyable page-turner, Crosspoints has something in store for you!
Michelle Fram Cohen, a native of Israel, has lived in the United States since 1981. She holds an M.A. in Comparative Literature and works as a computer programmer, as well as a freelance translator and writer. Her writings have been published in Navigator, Full Context, and other periodicals. She currently resides in Maryland with her husband and son.