cover image The Sunken Cathedral

The Sunken Cathedral

Kate Walbert. Scribner, $25 (208p) ISBN 978-1-4767-9932-2

Footnotes enrich the text of this short, deceptively simple novel; altogether the book combines memories, regrets, doubts, hopes, fears, and mental detours including an escape from war-torn France and the past of a sugar maple tree. The result is a multidimensional portrait of two 80-something widows in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood venturing outside their comfort zone to take an art class. Simone and Marie, both French survivors of WWII, have been friends since meeting as young mothers on a Brooklyn playground. Neighbors, family, art students, and school administrators provide a supporting cast whose hopes and disappointments, routines and crises, pleasures, and fears converge to form an ode to New York City, a riff on aging, and a discourse on living with a vague fear of impending catastrophe. A keen observer of architecture, landscape, and culture, Walbert (A Short History of Women) takes inspiration from Debussy’s water music, referenced in the title and with impressionistic dabs of prose and subtle shifts of tone. Whether she is being technically exact or ingeniously playful, above or below the (High) line, Walbert’s wistful glimpse of women reaching out during their last days of independence offers a penetrating look at New York and the world, post-9/11, post-Sandy, pre–the next disaster. (June)