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February 15, 2016 BOOKLIST
Find more Great Reads
Fiction writers love to imagine the lives of artists. The profound conflict between the romantic dream of creating transforming art and life’s harsh realities engender intense drama both intimate and societal. With artists as protagonists, novelists gain entry into a world of risk, controversy, and beauty. Many novelists improvise on the lives of real artists. Check out our Spotlight on the Arts for a starred review of Katherine Govier’s The Printmaker’s Daughter, a novel about Oei, who may have played a much greater role in the success of her father, famed Japanese artist Hokusai Katsushika (1760–1849), than she’s been given credit for. Other writers create imaginary artists of great, if disquieting allurement. Enjoy these empathic and provocative takes on artists and those they enthrall and appall. ––Donna Seaman
As Above, So Below: A Novel of Peter Bruegel, by Rudy Rucker
What possesses a popular science fiction writer to write a historical novel about a sixteenth-century Flemish painter enamored of peasant ways? Unbridled fascination with the depiction of worlds real and imagined. Rucker’s keen insights into Peter Bruegel’s spellbinding and politically subversive work underpin this animated, suspenseful, and affecting tale, a step up from Tracy Chevalier’s Girl with a Pearl Earring (2000).
By Nightfall, by Michael Cunningham
Peter Harris, a dispirited Soho gallery owner in his midforties, arrives home to find his wife in the shower and marvels at how lithe she looks through the steam, then realizes that he’s admiring her much younger brother. Called the Mistake, or Mizzy, he’s a lost soul, a junkie and moocher as sexy as he is manipulative. Mizzy appears just as Peter, brooding, romantic, and self-deprecating, is grappling with his failings as a father and an art dealer.
I Am Madame X, by Gioia Diliberto
When biographer Diliberto (A Useful Woman  and Debutante ) began researching John Singer Sargent’s famous Portrait of Madame X , she discovered that little was known about the model beyond her name: Virginie “Mimi” de Avegno Gautreau. Fascinated by the portrait but lacking enough material for a biography, Diliberto used what little information she could find as the basis for this lively and provocative first novel.
Luncheon of the Boating Party, by Susan Vreeland
Once again—to the delight of her legion of fans—the best-selling author of Girl in Hyacinth Blue (1999) and The Passion of Artemesia (2002) imaginatively uses art history as the basis for a carefully constructed historical novel. Vreeland turns this time to French impressionist master Auguste Renoir’s famous painting Luncheon of the Boating Party, which depicts a group of people (in 1880) enjoying leisure time on the terrace of a riverside restaurant. The current conditions in the life of the painter himself launch the author on an amazingly engrossing reinvigoration of the lives of the individuals who modeled for Renoir for that work, all of whom were actual people, and all are given a third dimension in Vreeland’s lovely prose, beyond the two dimensions in which they were painted.
The Marriage Artist, by Andrew Winer
Art critic Daniel Lichtmann staked his career on an enigmatic Native American artist named Benjamin Wind, until Benjamin and Daniel’s wife, Aleksandra, a Russian Jew and intrepid photographer, fall to their deaths from the roof of Wind’s New York studio. Were they lovers? Did they make a suicide pact? Faced with this double jeopardy of grief and mystery, Daniel is impelled to search out the truth, a quest that unfolds in a double plot.
Sunset Park, by Paul Auster
Passionately literary, Auster nonetheless publishes as frequently as a genre author, writing poetic and brainy feigned procedurals featuring inadvertent outlaws. In his sixteenth novel, four flat-broke twentysomething searchers end up squatting in a funky abandoned house in Sunset Park, a rough Brooklyn neighborhood. Bing, the “sloppy bear” ringleader, plays drums and runs the Hospital for Broken Things, where he mends “relics” from a thriftier past.
Tinisima, by Elena Poniatowska
Renowned Mexican writer Poniatowska has drawn on her considerable journalistic and novelistic talents in this magnificent re-creation of the life of photographer and revolutionary Tina Modotti (1896–1942). One usually thinks of Modotti as the young, sensually beautiful Italian taking pictures in Mexico with her enraptured companion, Edward Weston, but her life evolved into something far more complex and tragic.
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