Emily Mead
August 15, 2003 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Set in the ’50s in rugged-but-beautiful Wisconsin, Watson’s sixth book is as technically flawless and quietly unnerving as its inspiration: Andrew Wyeth’s famed Helga paintings. When Sonja, a Norwegian housewife whose young son has recently died, begins posing for renowned artist (and notorious womanizer) Ned Weaver, the intensity of their enigmatic relationship — and their spouses’ suspicions about it — slowly wrench both families apart. Sonja’s and Ned’s frustrations unfold in exquisitely crafted flashbacks punctured by brief, searing glimpses of the day that Sonja’s husband finally confronts the painter and his muse. Ned’s pompous rants on the Importance of His Art are Watson’s only tonal missteps in an emotional and physical landscape composed in melancholy autumnal ochers and chilly winter grays.

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