Dani, an art assistant at Christie’s, comes across a series of tiny paintings taped to the back of recently discovered works she’s been asked to authenticate. She recognizes the small works as pieces similar in style to those her great aunt, early abstract painter Alizée Benoit, created. Alizée disappeared from a mental institution, never to be heard from again, after most of her extended Jewish family was scattered or killed by the Nazis. Dani is determined to prove these pieces were painted by her aunt, to uncover what happened to her, and to reestablish her great aunt’s place as a major contributor to pre-WWII-era abstract painting.
Alizée works for the Works Progress Administration, part of the New Deal to employ people to create public works. Alizée is bored by the realistic, predictably patriotic paintings sanctioned by the government and wishes to alert the American public to the atrocities European Jews, like her family, are facing at the hands of the Nazis. She becomes involved in resistance groups to get more visas for refugees and with Eleanor Roosevelt’s blessing, she begins to put her political commentary to canvass despite a government and public very averse to joining the war effort. Exhausted mentally and physically, her concerned artist friends (Rothko, Pollack, and Krasner) convince Alizée to take a break at an institution. But Alizée chooses to flee instead, leaving behind her friends, her art, and America for safer waters.
It horribly pains me to say this, but I am at a loss as to how the author who wrote “The Art Forger” wrote this book. “Forger” is everything this book is not: tight, focused, fast-paced, irresistible, with an effortless blending of historical and modern. The art details in the former book are stellar. Here, they are not.
This book has more than five POV narrators which is at least two too many. Eleanor Roosevelt is treated like a fairy godmother who abruptly arrives and just as abruptly disappears when her husband brings her to heel, while Breckinridge Long is the stereotypical, leering arch villain. Even though President Roosevelt is given evidence of Long’s schemes, he turns a blind eye and thwarts his wife’s wishes, but it’s only at Long that Alizée’s vindictive ire is directed.
Although a sympathetic character, Alizée is a confusing one, and this creates distance between the character and reader. Unlike Claire (“Forger” protagonist), I didn’t share in Alizée’s peril, and at times, I didn’t find her all that likable. Alizée comes across as downright insane, participating in foolish, dangerous plots with no chance for success. It’s hard to sympathize with a character who seems to shoot herself in the foot so often. Her involvement in political protests feels counterproductive and trite, as if the author needed some drama and so manufactured a convenient street riot. Alizée’s ultimate fate is cliche, underwhelming, and you can see it coming a mile away.
Trust me. I usually temper my negative reviews, but this book was an enormous let down. “Forger” is a far better work than this one. I highly suggest you read that one and let this one pass you by. My review of the “The Art Forger” can be found here.
Amazon link is here.