Barbara Goldsmith’s The Straw Man is an explosive novel about the fabulously wealthy Royceman family, financiers through several generations, collectors of opulent homes, exclusive clubs, thoroughbred horses, influence, women, and art. The family’s obsession is the Royceman Collection: the finest private art collection in America, a hundred million dollars’ worth of Old Masters, Impressionists, Neo-Impressionists, and objects d’art. It has all been willed by Bertram Royceman to a New York museum to be housed in a special pavilion - provided the lawsuits can be cleared up.
The narrator and central character is Bertie, the only son of Bertram Royceman. Ignored, manipulated, shunted aside in the power game, he files suit to challenge his father’s will and to find a will of his own. The ensuing battle rips open the art world, where young radical artists bent on the destruction of traditional art, clash with arrogant custodians of the past.
The Straw Man is a novel of uncommon excitement and uncommon merit, a fast moving tale told by an insider with an intimate knowledge of the world she writes about. Compelling plotting and sharp depiction of character, setting, and detail draw the listener into Bertie’s struggle to come to terms with himself and with the overbearing legacy - personal as well as financial - of his father. “As I was growing up,” he writes, “my father would show guests through our apartment as if conducting an extended series of student tours. He was an articulate guide. He would pause in the living room, where the paintings hung in tiers three deep, and gesture toward the walls and say, ‘These are my children’… I’d really spent a lot of time hating the Royceman Collection.” That emotion, once unleashed, sets off a chain of events whose remarkable progress and denouement make The Straw Man a dramatic and powerful listening experience.