The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro – Book Review

The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro
Published by Algonquin Books

Claire dreams of being a renowned artist, but for now the entirety of her art sales come from her Reproductions.com commissions, where she paints copies of famous paintings for the moderately wealthy – OTC (over the couch) paintings, as she calls them. It wasn’t always this way. Three years ago, Claire was a promising young art student. The problem came when she had an affair with her mentor, Isaac. After what happened with Isaac and his art, Claire was shunned despite her talent, which is why she is now stuck with Reproductions.com.

When Aiden Markel, Isaac’s old art dealer, comes calling, Claire lets herself hope that her talent has finally won out, that the small, insular art world is beginning to forget about Isaac. Instead, it turns out that Markel is coming to see Claire partly because of her ostracism, and partly for the skills she has developed as a copyist for Reproductions.com. In short, Markel is asking her to forge a Degas. Not just any Degas, either, but one of the painting that went missing during the Gardner Heist some twenty years earlier.

The Art Forger is just fabulous. FABULOUS I TELL YOU. Although most of the action happens in the present when Claire is involved in this forgery – after being convinced by Markel that if she forges the painting they will be able to return the original to the Isabelle Stuart Gardner museum – we also see flashbacks to the time of Claire’s falling out with the art world, as well as letters from Isabelle Stuart Gardner to her niece as she went about Europe collecting artwork. All three sections are pieced together beautifully so that they inform and enhance the story as a whole.

Claire’s mental state is particularly well developed. Although committing forgery is clearly Not A Good Idea, it is easy to understand how she allows herself to be talked into it. In fact, the motivations of all of the characters are very well drawn. Even Isabelle’s letters give sufficient information to explain her actions, while still managing to read like authentic letters.

In addition to the great writing and plotting, many readers are going to absolutely adore Shapiro’s depth of detail on painting in general and aging paintings as is done by forgers in particular. Even if you are not an art fan, this level of detail gives The Art Forger a level of reality that helps the reader live securely in Claire’s head, making the story all the more engaging.

Wonderful story wonderfully told. Very highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

Digiprove sealCopyright protected by Digiprove © 2012

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan – Book Review

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan
Published by Algonquin Books

After The Great Scourge, abortion is considered an especially heinous crime as the country tries to recover its birthrate. Women who get abortions have their skin turned red through the process of melochroming, a sentence that eliminates the need for the government to house the convicted, while still allowing the citizenry to feel safe from criminals. Hannah Payne finds herself a Red after aborting her baby. She would never have done so, but if she had given birth to a child out-of-wedlock, she would have been compelled to name the father, and she simply cannot do that to the man she loves. Naming her child’s father would have destroyed both his personal and public life. Now Hannah must decide what life looks like as the shamed woman she now is.

When she woke, she was red. Not flushed, not sunburned, but the solid, declarative red of a stop sign. -p. 1

If Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale had a slightly futuristic baby, it would be When She Woke. Jordan makes it quite clear that this is a retelling of The Scarlet Letter, not only giving Hannah a situation and name very similar to Hawthorne’s Hester Prynne, but when Hannah is compelled to name the baby she would have had, she calls her Pearl, which was Hester’s daughter’s name as well.

Unlike Hawthorne, however, Jordan is not content to deal just in the themes of sin and legalism. Instead, she goes deeper into her protagonist’s life to focus on personal choice, agency, and faith. At one time Hannah was a faithful, Christian girl in a conservative society. After her fall for something that initially seemed so heaven-sent, she has an entirely understandable crisis of faith and must decide whether she and God have abandoned one another, or if she can make sense out of her faith and what her life has become.

While there are some moments of the book that lose steam, the story is an incredibly compelling one overall, and a likely a modern classic in its own right. Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
Digiprove sealCopyright protected by Digiprove © 2011

A Friend of the Family by Lauren Grodstein – Book Review

A Friend of the Family by Lauren Grodstein
Published by Algonquin Books

Doctor Peter Dinzinoff seems to have it all: good friends, lovely house, successful practice, loving wife, and the child for which he and his wife had to try so hard. Really, it isn’t even an illusion of having it all, other than some tension between Pete and his son, his life really is going splendidly. Until it isn’t any longer. By the opening of “A Friend in the Family,” Pete has been kicked out of the house with his wife contemplating divorce and removed from his medical practice. He can no longer bring himself to answer his best friend’s phone calls and his son won’t speak to him. As he sits in his garage apartment and awaits a civil trial that could change his life for the better or for the worse, he begins reminiscing on what exactly brought him to this point, and remembering all the ways in which he has really been a very lucky man.

I have been reading a whole lot of really fabulous books lately, and “A Friend of the Family” is another in that line. Please prepare yourself for gushing (this seems to be happening at least once a week – not that I am complaining!).

“A Friend of the Family” is one of those books that I loved so much it is almost difficult to say why. The main thing is that Grodstein purely and simply wrote a book that I didn’t want to put down and, when I had to put it down, I counted the minutes until I could pick it back up again. Even more amazingly, she did so without histrionics or manufactured suspense. Although this is not a mystery per se, the reader is left wondering what exactly happened to cause Pete to lose everything. This desire to understand what happened flows out of a genuine regard for Pete and his friends and family created by Grodstein’s impeccable character development and sustained by flawless structure of the novel, with brief glimpses of the present amidst the flashback narrative. It does not always work well to have the majority of story told as flashbacks, but it definitely did in this case – I think it helped that the flashbacks proceeded in chronological order, so as not to perplex the reader. Although  I knew it would break my heart on his behalf, I simply had to find out what happened to Pete, as if he were a real person whose story I was hearing.

Love. Very, very highly recommend.

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound.*
Amazon.*

Source: review copy
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.