cover image LIFE STUDIES


Susan Vreeland, Author . Viking $24.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-670-0

Having carved out a niche as an insightful and sensitive chronicler of artists' lives, Vreeland (Girl in Hyacinth Blue ) continues to consider the artistic impulse with fresh and imaginative fictional portraits. The first eight stories in this collection are based on biographical incidents in the lives of such artists as Renoir, Van Gogh and Cézanne, though the painters themselves are not the protagonists but figures to the side, as it were, in the lives of other people. A wet nurse who cares for Berthe Morisot's baby daughter gradually becomes aware of the liaison between Morisot and her brother-in-law, Édouard Manet. At Giverny, Monet's gardener watches in anguish as the artist burns his water lily paintings. Vreeland herself has a painterly eye that conveys vivid sensory impressions of rural landscapes, city street scenes and domestic interiors. The remaining 10 stories revolve around ordinary people who are profoundly influenced by exposure to artistic creation. Notable is the semiautobiographical "Crayon, 1955," in which a young girl of humble background is introduced to pre-Columbian figures and Picasso's paintings, which enable her to accept the death of the grandfather who encouraged her to see the beauty in differences. While some stories stretch the theme too far, the best of them have a luminous clarity that does justice to the author's intentions. Agent, Barbara Braun. 10-city author tour. (Dec. 27)