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Ivory Black

Ivory Black

By Brian Duren

In 2005, after four months in hospitals, Dick Rayburn returns home with a limp, a disfigured face, and pain. Around tense conversations between him and his wife, Valerie, concerning their absent son, Jamie, the narrative weaves memories triggered by objects in the house. An old self-portrait draws him back to his childhood and the studio of his father, who trained Dick to be an artist, while an article critical of the Iraq War, by the journalist to whom he was engaged when they were graduate students, resurrects the person he was and the woman he loved. Dick relives his evolution from a young artist and left-wing university student to the war profiteer Valerie blames for Jamie being in Iraq, and cannot stop reliving the horror that he witnessed the day he flew into Fallujah and was shot down as his helicopter left the city. To cope with the memories that haunt him, Dick returns to his passion for painting. He paints what he saw in Fallujah, the person he feels he has become, and the loved ones he has lost. The images emerge from a deep, dark background, the principal ingredient of which is ivory black.


Guernica World Editions (World Prose)


336 pages |

Regular price $25.00 CAD
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Brian Duren is a writer of enviable talent, and Ivory Black is a novel of profound elegance. At once a love story, a novel of political intrigue, and a reflection on the way art and memory often collide, it’s a book with something for everyone. What’s more, the moral weight of this novel will leave you pondering its characters for months after reading. This is just the beginning from Duren, who seems able to write about anything and everything. Lord knows, I’ll be first in line for whatever’s next.

Peter Geye, author of The Ski Jumpers

In Ivory Black, Brian Duren takes us back to the last century—from hippie days to the Iraq war—and does it so powerfully and energetically that we can see it all in vivid color. This is a novel of enduring beauty and sorrow told by a master of the trade.

Mary Logue, author of THE STREEL and THE BIG SUGAR

Rarely do I read a novel so compelling its multiple storylines are difficult to put down. We witness the main character making one mistake after another, but always leading with his heart. Ivory Black is a love story (in all its myriad forms), a war novel, a meditation on art, and the saga of a man who finally learns what is most important in life. It is a beautiful, hard, wonderful lesson to read.

Cary Griffith, author of the novel, KILLING MONARCHS, and winner of the Minnesota Book Award for Nonfiction

In Big Bluff, Colorado in the ‘60s, young Richard sits in his father’s art studio. He watches as a painting emerges from his father’s concentration and strokes of paint: a mysterious, melancholy and magical process. From his father he learns to draw, knowledge he uses to make revealing caricatures, a skill that accompanies him through student years and adventures in France. Life follows its course until Richard becomes a high-up consultant behind the scenes of the Iraqi War. A coming-of-age story becomes Greek tragedy. Only the power of painting offers possible redemption. Brian Duren astutely explores what it can mean to be an artist working in the world. As Richard’s father says, “You paint with your eyes closed so you can see the reality you have to paint.”

Joyce Lyon, Artist / Professor of Art Emerita, University of Minnesota

Brian Duren breathes life into the classic artistic model of the solitary genius, showing two different ways a painter can be in the world. A father and his son follow separate trajectories and end up in the same place…but with a twist. The novel’s energetic plotline is accompanied by delicious descriptions of sights, smells and sounds which are a joy to the senses. Ivory Black celebrates the high romance of a certain kind of art life by putting an imaginary paintbrush into the hands of the reader and leading the way through an experience so real, it seems like more than a dream.

Nancy Robinson, an award-winning surrealistic painter, has exhibited extensively in galleries, museums and other art venues.

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About the author

Brian Duren was born and raised in Minnesota. After earning a Doctorate in French literature from the University of Paris, as well as a B.A. in English and a Ph.D. in French from the University of Minnesota, he taught modern French Literature and European cinema at the Universities of Texas, Tulsa, Iowa, and Minnesota. He eventually left teaching and became an administrator at the University of Minnesota. Retired, he now works full-time as a writer. Brian’s first novel, Whiteout, described by the St. Paul Pioneer Press as a “stunning debut novel, worthy of national recognition,” won the Independent Publisher Gold Medal for Midwestern Fiction. His second novel, Ivory Black, is forthcoming from Guernica World Editions. His third novel, The Gravity of Love, is forthcoming from Between the Lines Publishing.