Queen of the Owls
Updated: Sep 21, 2022
By Barbara Probst
I dog-eared page after page of this absorbing story of a woman striving to be seen. Author Barbara Linn Probst uses a fascinating, little-known chapter of artist Georgia O’Keefe’s life as a framework for her character, Elizabeth, to grapple with an awakened restlessness. Elizabeth is a doctrinal student, adjunct professor, mother, wife—and in all these roles she’s the brainy one, the “queen of the owls”-- but lately is drawn to the provocative face and body portraits O’Keefe did with photographer Stiegiltz.
As the subject of her research dissertation, the O’Keefe/Stiegiltz collaboration becomes a roadmap for Elizabeth to search for identity by being similarly photographed by a local (handsome) photographer. Yes, things go awry; yes, things careen out of control for the “brainy” one everyone expects to know better. Fast-paced, tight, crisp—Probst writes with precision and command and empathy. She deftly weaves in bits of classic and contemporary female artist context while keeping the tension taunt—you know Elizabeth doesn’t see the chaos she’s created. Like a great novelist, Probst wrestles with timeless questions through Elizabeth: Is she seen as a type? (Am I judged based solely on gender?) Is she seen as symbol? (Do I represent a quality that my admirer wants, but isn’t me?) Does it matter that she claims how she’s seen? (Does it, to me?) Come to your own conclusion after reading this book. My answer to this last question: Yes, yes, yes.