cover image The Afterlife of Emerson Tang

The Afterlife of Emerson Tang

Paula Champa. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26 (336p) ISBN 978-0-547-79278-1

Money can’t buy happiness, but can it buy aesthetic satisfaction, or restore a shattered past? Automobile journalist Champa’s first novel places a 1953 Beacon, a fictional classic car, at the center of a war of acquisition. Its owner, wealthy young art collector Emerson Tang, is near death, and has recruited his devoted archivist, Beth Corvid, to manage his healthcare and estate. He turns down an offer for the Beacon from Hélène Moreau, an avant-garde artist who used cars to create her famous ‘50s-era Speed paintings, but in the process discovers that the Beacon’s engine has somehow been replaced. As he and Beth begin a race to restore the car to its original state, their relationship emerges as the heart of the book, revealing two deeply private people who find common ground in each other’s driving passions. More than from the Beacon’s fate, suspense arises from the question of whether Beth, whose attachment to Emerson has been central to her adult life, can create a future for herself after his death. While Emerson and Hélène’s dramatic, slowly revealed motivations for possessing the car make for compelling conflict, it’s Beth’s unspoken, rigorous devotion that elevates Champa’s story. Agent: William Clark, William Clark Associates. (Mar.)