With the narrator’s insightful contemplations, the novel poses big questions ... A poet as well as a novelist, Bialosky deftly balances these vast universal questions with tight descriptions of personal, arresting images. The result is a pressing, mesmerizing novel that explores the intense emotional journey of a writer, teacher, and mother grappling with the shifts in these identities in the aftermath of betrayal ... The present-tense narration establishes both an intimacy and an urgency that underscores the novel’s central suspense. But it’s the narrator’s swift leaps from work to family to art, from subject to myth and back again, that suggests the narrator’s desperation to settle and her inability to do so ... The real, physical world’s sharp interruptions of the narrator’s meandering thoughts reveal her preference for the order of her imagination, the comfort of assigned meaning in her myths. This is relatable ... is attuned to the physical interiors that the narrator inhabits as well ... The book includes photographs of the paintings, sculptures, and other artifacts that the narrator directly on the page. While this visual could be dismissed as distracting, the photographs add to the immersive sense of the physical space. Even more, the narrator’s readings of these pieces of art are beautiful and made all the more so because we can follow along ... Bialosky employs a subtle framework in the novel featuring the narrator’s book that pays off beautifully when this shapes the end of the story. Even without the promising literary framing, the novel is an unforgettable read. Perhaps the greatest achievement of The Deceptions is the captivating depiction of mundane reality. The artifacts of a marriage—mementos from an early trip, half-broken keepsakes that remain on the shelves. The rainstorm outside the narrator’s apartment in the opening scene. Bialosky elevates the ordinary with her exceptional attention to detail and her poignant observations. With the consistent comparison to Heracles’ labors, Leda and the swan, Penelope and the suitors, and other myths, the layers of meaning and emotion in the everyday become awe-inspiring.
There is much of Bialosky in the pages of her engaging new novel ... Her first-person voice has the same compelling nervousness we recall from an earlier work, History of a Suicide: My Sister’s Unfinished Life (2011), in which Bialosky tried to come to terms with her half-sister’s untimely death. This new work, being fiction, gives her more latitude to stretch, but in some ways it also constrains her, for she seems deeply wedded to the personal truths of her own life, and when transforming this into fiction, she sometimes runs amiss ... Bialosky’s rendering of a marriage on the brink is enhanced by her ability to allow her protagonist ample room to ruminate about how things became as awful as they are now. She lets her ramble on ... She recalls the stigma of being a 'fatherless girl' with a masterful poignancy that seems to come directly from the author’s own life experiences ... Bialosky has drawn a complex composite of a middle-aged, attractive, accomplished woman who nonetheless is torn in half ... These trips to the Met carry much meaning for Bialosky, but what precisely they do for her narrator is unclear. Perhaps they confirm the wickedness and cruelty of the world. Or perhaps the museum has replaced the synagogue of Bialosky’s childhood as a place of worship. Is the narrator looking for some sort of absolution for past sins? Or does the male-dominated world of the ancient gods confirm her sense that men have always controlled everything and not much has really changed? These questions linger unspoken in the margins of the novel’s haunting pages. We perceive that the narrator is adrift in a toxic cloud of anger and contempt and confusion, but does she have any agency in all this? The subtext behind many of her reckonings seems to question her own role in her lingering unhappiness, to ask what she could do to change the situation. But it never changes.
With the violent myth of Leda and Zeus, who takes the form of a swan to commit rape, as a harrowing template for this classics-steeped, intricately constructed drama, Bialosky has her increasingly distraught narrator seek daily refuge in the halls of ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian art at the Metropolitan Museum...Photographs of artworks add dimension and wonder to this stunning tale of entitlement, betrayal, creativity, and true power.
A middle-aged Manhattanite uses ancient art as a respite from her tumultuous personal and professional life...Bialosky’s premise here—that female artists are subjected to artistic, emotional, psychological, and physical ravages that have prevented their full blooming—is admirable; one feels that Bialosky, the author of five collections of poetry as well as a memoir about poetry, among other works, is speaking at least partly for herself...But the novel goes lightly over scenes that have dramatic potential, such as the narrator’s son being assaulted at school, and pours a great deal of energy into detailed recountings of the Met’s holdings, complete with photos...The result reads more like a guidebook written by an earnest docent than the page-turning suspense novel, or even the meditative volume of lyric poems, it might have been...A well-intentioned but didactic paean to the life of the imagination.
Bialosky contests patriarchal notions about life, marriage, and art in her clever if uneven latest...Despite the shocking betrayal-fueled climax, Bialosky’s messages on feminism are a bit pat—as one character says, 'we have not come further as a society' since Mary Wollstonecraft’s 'intellectual equals' declaration of 1792...Still, Bialosky’s sensuous evocation of longing and regret will no doubt linger in readers’ minds.