cover image The Art of Falling

The Art of Falling

Danielle McLaughlin. Random House, $28 (384p) ISBN 978-0-8129-9844-3

In Windham Campbell Prize–winner McLaughlin’s remarkable debut novel (after the collection Dinosaurs on Other Planets), an Irish art curator struggles with a major exhibition after inconvenient details from the past emerge. While Nessa McCormack is preparing an exhibition of late sculptor Robert Locke’s work, she is confronted by Melanie Doerr, who insists she deserves to share the credit for Locke’s signature Chalk Sculpture, a female figure meant to embody “fertility powers.” Melanie also claims, scandalously, that the piece depicts her and not Locke’s widow. Nessa, meanwhile, copes with her husband’s infidelity and tries to reassure their troubled teenage daughter the marriage won’t fall apart. Enter Luke, the 21-year-old son of Nessa’s late friend Amy, along with his aimless father, with whom Nessa had had an affair before Luke was born. Nessa blames herself for Amy’s suicide when Luke was two, as she was the last person to see Amy alive; now Luke poses questions about Nessa’s relationship with his parents and about Locke’s sculpture that threaten Nessa’s marriage, family, and career. How this plays out, as well as the mystery of Doerr’s relationship with Locke, is slowly teased as the narrative builds to a thrilling climax. McLaughlin’s descriptions of the art and its appeal have an almost mythic quality (“they came in a spirit of supplication, less to marvel at what critics had described as the piece’s ‘gritty transcendence,’ its alien, unsettling beauty, than to plead their case”), and she has a gift for precise characterization. This engaging and evocative work will stay with readers. (Jan.)