LYDIA CASSATT READING THE MORNING PAPER
Elegantly conceived and tenderly written, this cameo of a novel ushers readers into a small, warmly lit corner of art history. Inspired by five Mary Cassatt paintings of Cassatt's older sister, Lydia, Chessman (Ohio Angels) paints her own intimate portrait of the admirable Lydia, chronicling Lydia's thoughts and feelings as she models for Mary in Paris in the late 1870s and early 1880s. All the while, Lydia is conscious that she is dying of Bright's disease, and her thoughtful contemplation of her life and dashed hopes give shape to the tale. Lydia, who is in her 40s, never married—the man she loved was killed in the Civil War—but she reveals a sharp, sophisticated awareness of desire in her observations of her sister Mary (May), and May's lover, the painter Edgar Degas. Chessman sees May as vividly as she does Lydia, describing her as a live wire, a woman with outsize ambitions for her times, but also as a devoted sister. Chessman's prose can be obvious and overcareful—"I think May's sadness, when she heard my diagnosis, was increased by her memory of earlier sorrows"—but her instinctive understanding of the sisters' relationship and her thoughtful description of their studio collaborations elevate this understated effort. The five paintings, beautifully reproduced, appear at intervals and acquire new depth even as they enrich Chessman's story. 4-city author tour. (Nov. 1)
Forecast:Published in an unusual joint venture by Seven Stories and the Permanent Press, this title—the #1 BookSense pick for November/December—is attracting much early attention. The small trim size and glossy art inserts make it an appealing gift book, and it's a safe bet that holiday sales will be strong. U.S. paperback rights to Plume; foreign rights sold in the U.K., Greece, Italy and Australia/New Zealand.