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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Violet Clay reveals the inner thoughts and struggles of a middle-aged, female painter and illustrator who seeks fulfillment through art and relationships. Years after moving to New York to follow her passion as an artist, Violet evaluates her decisions, as well as actions of others in her life, which have affected her greatly.

At one point, after she is fired as an artist, Violet feels invisible and empty; she recalls this similar feeling when she was a young girl and sent away to an all-girls' school. She seeks to define and redefine herself throughout the novel.

Then there was an awful moment when VIOLET CLAY had become just a bunch of letters. I stared at the tapes frantically: where had my name gone? The letters danced mockingly, refusing to have anything to do with me. They were merely letters. There was no Violet Clay.

Violet reflects upon her failed marriage, many affairs, and the sudden death of her Uncle Ambrose. She investigates her uncle's life and her family history. Ambrose had always been a source of happiness and support for Violet; he had even welcomed her to New York. His death left a great void in her life.

At one point, Carol tells Violet, “Marrying your uncle was the only romantic act I ever committed."

Violet ponders the complexities of human nature and relationships.

I found myself wondering if you could ever know what someone was really like. Perhaps no one had a stable personality, but people simply vibrated different emotional frequencies, depending on the lights or darknesses of the moment.

Milo discusses family secrets, calling them "gothic." He says that most people try to forget these secrets "except when they [secrets] manifest themselves in some form of brooding terror.”

Throughout the book, Violet strives to grow personally in many ways, as she confronts her own sadness and inner struggles, such as the striking words from her lover Jake who said, "You'll never be a great painter."

Violet constantly assessed her work and the approval of her work by others. One art director, Williamson, affected her greatly.

In the old days, when Williamson, the nice art director, had been in charge, I had looked forward to dropping down to the office, to deliver or pick up an assignment—or often just to chat.

You left Williamson's office feeling that what you were going to do wasn't so bad when you considered how what had been done already wasn't all that good.

Throughout the novel, readers learn of the many relationships with artists, friends, and family who impacted Violet. This quote is about the new art director, Doris.

She did not turn; she just went on with what she was doing. It was as if, I had noticed in my few meetings with her, her stimulus-response equipment worked more slowly than most people's. That or something more sinister: that her simplest act was calculated to produce a certain desired employee reaction, and she had no time to waste on the superfluities of ordinary human intercourse.

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