cover image The Muralist

The Muralist

B.A. Shapiro. Algonquin, $26.95 (352p) ISBN 978-1-61620-357-3

After the success of The Art Forger, Shapiro returns to the art world, this time focusing on the budding Abstract Expressionist movement, whose major players, Mark Rothko, Lee Krasner, and Jackson Pollack, interact with the fictional Alizée Benoit until her mysterious disappearance in 1940. Danielle Abrams, a cataloguer at Christie’s in the present who is haunted by her great aunt Alizée, comes across some canvases that may have been painted by her enigmatic relative. The novel goes back and forth in time, and pre–World War II America comes to life in the flashbacks. Alizée and her colleagues are hired by the WPA to paint public works, but she is plagued by Hitler’s frightening actions against the Jews in Europe, where members of her family are trying to escape. Passionate about her work and finding new ways to express herself, she is caught up in the horrors overseas and the obstacles put up by America to keep out refugees—exemplified by the evil machinations of Assistant Secretary of State Breckinridge Long. Though compelling, Shapiro’s latest is bogged down in relaying well-researched material about the pre-WWII politics and developments in the art world, ultimately undermining the power of the fictional story. Additionally, Alizée is a formidable character, but her modern-day counterpart, Danielle, lacks depth, diminishing the dénouement when she finally learns the truth about her great aunt. (Nov.)