In her novel Feast Your Eyes
(2019), American author Myla Goldberg tells the story of Samantha "Sam" Preston and her photographer mother, Lillian, through a series of catalog notes taken from a photography exhibition of Lillian's work. The photographs to which Lillian devoted her life give Sam access to her mother's creative genius, her sources of inspiration, and the motivations for the personal and professional choices she made. Feast Your Eyes
was a finalist for the 2019 National Book Critics Circle Award and the 2020 Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence.
While still a high school student in Ohio, Lillian discovers photography. Against her parents' wishes, she moves to New York City after graduation to pursue her passion, but city life is much different than anything she has previously known. As she struggles to find her place amid college and The Big Apple, she meets another young woman, Patricia Stokes, and the two become roommates. But while Lillian grows more deeply focused on—and isolated by—her work, Patricia maintains an active social life. Soon, their friendship suffers, and Lillian moves into a place of her own.
Now in her own studio/living space, Lillian meets one of her building mates, Deborah Brodsky, a gregarious and giving woman. The two develop a deep friendship, and through Deborah, Lillian meets other New York City creatives.
Lillian starts dating Charles, but around the time she decides to drop out of college, she also decides to drop Charles. Shortly after, Lillian learns she is pregnant. With Deb's support, she chooses to keep the baby—a girl, whom Lillian names Samantha Jane Preston. She also enjoys artistic success when a local library displays her photos.
To make ends meet, Lillian works at a bookstore and meets Ken Lowell. They start dating, and the relationship moves fast. He adores both Lillian and Sam and soon buys a house for the three of them in Brooklyn. Once they settle into family life, Deborah moves to California, though she and Lillian keep in touch.
Sam grows up assuming Ken is her father. Ken eventually asks Lillian to marry him and have another child with him. Lillian loves Ken, but she thinks marriage will make her sacrifice her creativity and artistic independence. Declining his proposal, she later finds out she is pregnant. When Ken discovers her plans for an abortion, they break up, and Lillian and Sam move in with Lillian's friend Grete and Grete's daughter. It is only then that Sam learns that Ken is not her father—news that devastates her.
Following Lillian's abortion, she and Sam move into their own place, and she puts all her energy into her photography. A chance encounter with Nina, a gallery owner, leads to an exhibition of Lillian's work, namely a series of unusual photographs of her and Sam. The exhibit is not received well, and the police arrest both Lillian and Nina because of the explicit nature of the photos.
A public uproar follows the arrest, shattering Lillian and Sam's lives. Lillian feels ravaged by the bad press, and bullies target Sam at school because of the controversy. Sam asks Lillian to never publicly exhibit photos of her again. She then changes her appearance and changes her name to Jane. The legal case stemming from the photos ultimately settles, but by this time, Lillian and Jane barely speak to one another. Grete puts Jane in touch with Lillian's parents, and Jane begins spending summers with them so she can get away from her mother. Lillian's parents invite Jane to live with them in Ohio, an offer that outrages Lillian. She promptly cuts off contact with her parents and prevents Jane from seeing them.
The fracture in the family only starts to heal when doctors diagnose Lillian with leukemia. Lillian and Jane move back to Ohio, where Lillian can be closer to her doctors in Detroit, and mother and daughter can both be closer to Lillian's parents. Lillian goes into remission.
Not long after, Jane moves to California for college. She achieves a certain level of notoriety because of Lillian and all the controversy surrounding her photos. However, when Jane learns that Lillian sold the photos that originally generated so much scandal, Jane cuts Lillian out of her life.
Lillian's cancer returns, and she cannot get in touch with Jane. As her body breaks down, Lillian documents her death through photographs. She dies without reconnecting with Jane.
Now, Jane/Sam prepares her mother's lifework for one final exhibit. Through the photos that were her mother's driving passion, she gains a fuller understanding of Lillian's genius and why her mother made the decisions she did. She also starts to forgive, letting go of the mother she wanted Lillian to be and accepting Lillian for who she was.