Though she was half his age, 21 year-old Jenny Van Horne met and wed famous art critic Clement Greenberg in 1955. Despite her lack of knowledge, Van Horne was soon swept into the art world of Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, Hanz Hoffman and David Smith. In her memoir A Complicated Marriage, Van Horne traces the path of the couple's life together, including the trajectory of their open marriage through progressing decades.
In a time where memoirs are a dime a dozen, especially from those well-connected to the public eye, I was impressed by how beautifully written much of Van Horne's story is. Her voice is particularly striking when she discusses the pain of losing her first child just minutes after she was born.
"He leaned into me, his breath on my face, not with kindness or caring but because he thought I did not hear him, was not getting the message. But I did get the message. There would be no baby. I heard him through the sirens in my brain that were so loud my eyes squeezed shut and my heart fisted inside itself."
Despite Van Horne's talent, I found myself struggling to finish parts of the book. My main interest upon picking it up was exploring the artists in her social circle from a different perspective, but I think choosing a more focused biography of Pollock or his contemporaries might be more compelling. In my traditional marriage, without children, I felt much less of a connection to Van Horne as the book continued, which may have caused some of my mixed feelings.
Still, I think that there are quite a few people that will really enjoy reading about the lives of Janice Van Horne and Clement Greenberg, more so for Van Horne's insight into marriage, motherhood and relationships than her lens into the art world.