Could an artist be so obsessed by a painting that he'd be compelled to destroy it? If so, why? This is the question psychiatrist Andrew Marlow wrestles with as he works to treat his newest patient, a painter of emerging fame and obvious genius, Robert Oliver.
Oliver becomes Marlow's patient after an aborted attack on the painting "Leda" in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. After saying, "I did it for her," Oliver stops talking. Dr. Marlow, an amateur painter himself, is determined to unravel the knotted mysteries of Oliver's mind and passion - but how does a psychiatrist, who heals patients by speaking with them - heal one who declines to speak?
Refusing to give up, Dr. Marlow tries to draw Oliver out by turning his hospital room into a studio. Oliver doesn't respond verbally, but begins to paint and draw - the same woman's face - again and again, filling the walls with her image. Who is she and why does she consume Robert Oliver?
Resolute and a little obsessed himself, Dr. Marlow take excursions from North Carolina to Mexico to France, exploring the life of Robert Oliver, especially his women. How do they relate to the woman of Oliver's drawings? And what connection is there to the packet of old, French love letters that Oliver guards and reads possessively? What inspires his esteemed painting style?
Told in alternating perspectives by chapter, "The Swan Thieves" unwinds with gentle melancholy, but the plot turns are captivating until most of Dr. Marlow's questions are answered and the reader learns the meaning of this book's title. If you have the time to listen to the audiobook, you will be entertained by a cast of voices, including Treat Williams and Anne Heche.
Recommended by Frazier Walker