Picture This (novel)
|Media type||Print (Hardcover and Paperback)|
|Pages||352 p. (hardcover first edition)|
|ISBN||ISBN 0-399-13355-0 (hardcover first edition)|
|Dewey Decimal||813/.54 19|
|LC Classification||PS3558.E476 P5 1988|
|Preceded by||No Laughing Matter|
|Followed by||Closing Time|
The novel is an eclectic historical journey across three periods of history, all connected by a single painting: Rembrandt van Rijn's Aristotle Contemplating a Bust of Homer. With constant reflections between the different time levels, we jump back and forth between the time of Aristotle, Rembrandt and Heller: the Golden Age of Athens, the brief 17th century golden age of Holland, and the golden age of the USA.
Like in Heller's version of King David's story, God Knows, the author changes little in the storyline of the original – he execrates narrative, and denies historical counterpoints, both explicit, some implicit. Incomprehension may have contributed to a critical redemption of this book, along with less weight for humour and a sobering conclusion.
Heller concludes that we don't learn from history (and in fact so much of history may be nonfactual that learning may be impossible). Being a pessimist chronicler of the American Century, his main unspoken theme is of course parallels between the onetime Hellenic overlord respective the onetime ruler of the Seas, and his home country.
This is most apparent in his treatment of the peak and downfall of Athens, when after the victory over Persia, Athens formed the Delian League, and got embroiled in the Peloponnesian War. Heller describes a beacon of democracy that destroys its own greatest advances or transforms them into tools of abuse, turns on its own allies just to demonstrate its power, and loses to weaker enemies due to self-deception.