November 17, 2017

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The Story Behind Adele Griffin’s Hybrid Novel, ‘The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone’

 

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TUnfinished-Life-of-Addison-Stone_9uphe Unfinished Life of Addison Stone, a novel by Adele Griffin releasing from Soho Press on August 12, is the story of talented teen artist Addison Stone, told through newspaper and magazine articles, interviews with those who orbited around her, photographs, and Addison’s own artwork. It begins with the young woman’s death, at 18, from a fall from a bridge. While barely out of high school, Addison was already well known for her art and her tumultuous life.

Griffin creates a layered, pseudo oral history around the legend of Addison. By the time readers have finished piecing together how the subject’s friends, family, enemies, and boyfriends viewed the young artist, they could well be convinced that Addison was a real, flesh-and-blood young woman, rather than a character created by the author.

When talking about her inspiration for the book and its main, elusive character, Griffin credits her experience reading about a similarly tragic figure in the art world. “Addison’s story was very inspired—in form and content—by the book Edie: American Girl, a memoir of Edie Sedgwick, edited by Jean Stein and George Plimpton (Knopf, 1982). I got my hands on a copy of that book in a library in Ft. Davis, Panama. I was reading interviews with Patti Smith and Lou Reed about how this reckless, indescribably cool young Warhol protégée rocketed to superstardom and then just as quickly crashed. I was maybe 12 years old, an Army brat, and this story set my mind on fire,” Griffin explains.

Adele Griffin. photo by Karol DuClos

Adele Griffin. photo by Karol DuClos

Jump forward 10 years, and the aspiring novelist was in Edie’s New York. “The whole city was manifest by these landmarks I’d read about. Here was the Chelsea Hotel, that’s where the Factory [Warhol’s studio] used to be. I’d completely romanticized Edie’s story—the imprint of that book’s glamor stayed so strong, I’m not surprised that, after all these years, I needed to go out and try to catch back its magic.”

Griffin also collaborated with several artists to help illustrate Addison’s story, many times allowing the art and the photographs intended to collectively represent Addison’s artistic output at different points in her life change and influence the narrative.

“I used four artists to be Addison, all of them differently intriguing,” she said. “The work of Cat Owens, a student at Pratt, was the student Addison, and it was easy to revise text to fit Addison creating a student portfolio. I asked my artist/illustrator friend Fiona Robinson to create some original pieces for Addison’s sketchbook. My artist cousin Alison Blickle had some great pieces that I already knew about and slotted in. Ultimately, to get Addison’s plot arc right, I needed to find an artist who captured the very particular troubled genius for the character I envisioned. I saw Addison as a young Lucian Freud, somebody who came to portraiture with a harrowing sense of the raw, vulnerable, arresting close-up.”

Griffin put out feelers to find such an artist and was led to Michelle Rawlings, a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design.  After a very rough draft of the novel in progress didn’t elicit a response from Rawlings, the novelist didn’t give up and continued to send her more text, making space for more portraits. The artist finally agreed to do 15 pieces, and Griffin revised the manuscript to fit them.

Images from The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone: (l. to r. Bloody Sophie; Glamour Portrait of Addison Stone by Etien Koort; Addison and Erickson (roommate) selfies; The Lenox (sketch of high school boyfriend). Courtesy of Soho Press.

Images from The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone: (l. to r. Bloody Sophie;
Glamour Portrait of Addison Stone by Etien Koort;
Addison and Erickson (roommate) selfies;
The Lenox (sketch of high school boyfriend). Courtesy of Soho Press.

The art was there, the text was there, but something more was still needed, Griffin thought. As she said, “And then one evening, Giza  came over to the house—she is a friend of my friend’s daughter—and I was so captivated by her. I realized, aha!—the thing that’s missing from my Edie book is Edie! The beating heart of the story.”

Griffin wanted to use pictures of Giza to represent Addison in the book. “So I pitched Giza the idea right there, and I asked if I could license some of her Facebook images, and I rebuilt Addison’s biography around what she gave me,” she said. “For example, Giza has a brother, so Addison got a brother. Giza’s best friend Sara is Asian, so Addison’s best friend Lucy is Asian. That’s why the photos look unstaged—because they’re real.”

The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone is about art, but it’s also about celebrity, fame, mental illness, and New York City. Griffin’s research went beyond her “dog-eared copy of Edie.” She retained a lifelong fascination with recurring themes of art, celebrity, youth, ambition, bohemia, and the whole “young, broke, and fabulous” ethos of New York.  Other sources of inspiration included Patti Smith’s Just Kids (Ecco, 2010), Julian Schnabel’s film Basquiat, and photographers Dash Snow and Francesca Woodman.

“And yet I’m very conscious of the book as a ‘soft’ fantasy,” she said. “For example, in the real world, a 19-year-old is not going to have a piece of art accepted into the Whitney Biennial. But I wanted to exaggerate it; Addison was even younger, more talented, more tragic! That’s wild the leap of fiction, her reckless youth cranked up as high as I could take it while trying to keep it all within a realm of possibility.”

Addison Stone’s life may be unfinished, but the story about her is full, rich, and complete. It will intrigue and inspire readers. Some of “her” work can be found at Addison Stone’s art tumblr, and Griffin shares that readers can expect more: “Soho Press has been really inventive and out-of-the-box with marketing, we’re in a lot of huddles these days about how to use all of the visual candy that is unique to this story.”

Below are short interviews with the author and the model who plays Addison Stone in The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone.

Adele Griffin on the making of Addison Stone:

Short interview with the model Giza Lagarce, who “plays” Addison Stone:

 

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  1. As readers, we learn more about Addison’s life, struggles, and the night she died, they will be pulled in by her story and be left with the sense that maybe the biggest question isn’t what happened the night Addison died but who Addison really was. Interesting story indeed!