Cover image for What I loved : a novel
What I loved : a novel
Hustvedt, Siri.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Henry Holt, 2003.
Physical Description:
370 pages ; 25 cm
Electronic Access:
Publisher description
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X Adult Fiction Central Library

On Order



A powerful and heartbreaking novel that chronicles the epic story of two families, two sons, and two marriages What I Loved begins in New York in 1975, when art historian Leo Hertzberg discovers an extraordinary painting by an unknown artist in a SoHo gallery. He buys the work; tracks down the artist, Bill Wechsler; and the two men embark on a life-long friendship.Leo's story, which spans twenty-five years, follows the evolution of the growing involvement between his family and Bill's-an intricate constellation of attachments that includes the two men; their wives, Erica and Violet; and their children, Matthew and Mark. The families live in the same building in New York, share a house in Vermont during the summer, keep up a lively exchange of thoughts and ideas, and find themselves permanently altered by one another. Over the years, they not only enjoy love but endure loss-in one case sudden, incapacitating loss; in another, a different kind, one that is hidden and slow-growing, and which insidiously erodes the fabric of their lives.Intimate in tone and seductive in its complexity, the novel moves seamlessly from inner worlds to outer worlds, from the deeply private to the public, from physical infirmity to cultural illness. Part family novel, part psychological thriller, What I Loved is a beautifully written exploration of love, loss, and betrayal-and of a man's attempt to make sense of the world and go on living.

Author Notes

Siri Hustvedt is the author of two previous novels, The Blindfold and The Enchantment of Lily Dahl (0-8050-5590-8). She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, Paul Auster.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

In her third novel, Hustvedt, a sophisticated and alluring writer drawn to the psyche's most convoluted passageways, co-opts New York's competitive and faddish art world for its symbol-laden milieu. Leo Hertzberg, a thoughtful art historian, narrates a measured and mesmerizing tale of passion and tragedy that spans 20 years and involves his wife, Erica, a literary scholar; his close friendship with highly provocative painter Bill Wechsler; and his hidden infatuation with Bill's sexy muse and second wife, Violet, an expert in psychotic disorders associated with women's body images, from nineteenth-century hysterics to contemporary anorexics. The two couples become thickly entwined, and their two sons, Leo and Erica's artistically inclined Matthew, and Mark, the strangely chimerical offspring of Bill and his morbid first wife, seem like brothers. Hustvedt has Leo dwell at length on the quartet's creative pursuits, which enables her to construct a disturbing lexicon of erotic obsessions and intimations of violence as her labyrinthine tale undulates its unnerving way toward abrupt deaths, prolonged grief, and teenage Mark's increasingly inexplicable behavior. By wedding the ordinary torments of family life with the heightened sensibilities of artists and a criminal grotesqueness, Hustvedt ponders the dark side of inheritance and creativity and the crushing burdens of love. Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

The ardent exchange of ideas underlies all manner of passionate action in Hustvedt's third novel (after The Enchantment of Lily Dahl), a dark tale of two intertwined New York families. "What is memory's perspective? Does the man revise the boy's view or is the imprint relatively static, a vestige of what was once intimately known?" So muses Columbia University art historian Leo Hertzberg as he recalls the love affair between artist Bill ("Seeing is flux") Wechsler and his model/second wife, Violet, whom Leo secretly loves almost as much as his own wife, Erica. Leo and Bill become friends when Leo buys a huge portrait of Violet, the first painting Bill has ever sold, and the two are inseparable ever after. Erica and Bill's first wife, Lucille, give birth to sons in the same year and, soon afterward, the Wechslers buy a loft in the same SoHo building. When the boys are four, Bill and Lucille are divorced, and Bill marries Violet. Linked by their love of art and language (Erica is an English professor and Violet a Ph.D. student with a specialty in 19th-century forms of madness), the two couples talk insatiably about art and life, celebrating triumphs and weathering tragedy together. In its second half, the novel shifts into the terrain of the psychological thriller, as Bill and Lucille's son, Mark, a dangerously charming boy, grows up and slips into a sinister New York club scene. So solid and complex are Hustvedt's characters that the change in pace is effortlessly effected-the plot developments are the natural extension of the author's meticulous examination of relationships and motives. In considering Violet, Leo observes, "Unlike most intellectuals, [she] didn't distinguish between the cerebral and the physical." The same distinctions are blurred in this gripping, seductive novel, a breakout work for Hustvedt. Author tour. (Mar. 6) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Art historian Leo Hertzberg happens upon an extraordinary painting in New York City in 1975. When he tracks down the artist, Bill Weschler, the two become such dear friends that they end up blending their small families into one tight unit of shared milestones and close living quarters. For years, the men and their accomplished wives and bright young sons flow in and out of each other's lives until a numbing tragedy destroys the infrastructure. As they struggle to regain some sort of professional and personal equilibrium, the adults are faced with another impossible blow when the surviving child, dangerously and bafflingly defiant, engages in ever more frightening behavior. Parents can lose their children in all sorts of ways, and when they do, their lives forever revolve around that fatality. Hustvedt (The Enchantment of Lily Dahl) beautifully captures the devastation of such loss as she immerses the reader in the lives of two families who, hobbled by their shared wounds, desperately search for salvation in the accomplished world of art and intellectual brilliance in New York City. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/02; Hustvedt is novelist Paul Auster's wife.-Ed.]-Beth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



From What I Loved :Yesterday, I found Violet's letters to Bill. They were hidden between the pages of one of his books and came tumbling out and fell to the floor. I had known about the letters for years, but neither Bill nor Violet had ever told me what was in them. What they did tell me was that minutes after reading the fifth and last letter, Bill changed his mind about his marriage to Lucille, walked out the door of the building on Greene Street, and headed straight for Violet's apartment in the East Village. When I held the letters in my hands, I felt they had the uncanny weight of things enchanted by stories that are told and retold and then told again. My eyes are bad now, and it took me a long time to read them, but in the end I managed to make out every word. When I put the letters down, I knew that I would start writing this book today. Excerpted from What I Loved: A Novel by Siri Hustvedt All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.