Tag Archives: fiction

The Girl in Times Square

By Paullina Simons

Lilianne  Quinn (Lily for short) has led a fairly average and unremarkable life. She more or less makes it through college in 6 years, with one class left before she graduates. Her older siblings are much older than her with well-established families, and her parents have retired in Hawaii. Nothing too exciting, nothing too difficult. All of this is par for the course when Lily leaves to visit her parents, but then everything changes. She receives a call from Detective Spencer O’Malley asking about the last time she saw her roommate, Amy. According to Detective O’Malley, Amy was last seen alive three weeks ago, right around the time when Lily left for Hawaii. All of a sudden Lily’s life is turned upside down. Her best friend and roommate seems to have vanished without a trace, and no leads for where to begin searching for her. While Detective O’Malley has worked missing persons cases for years, this one is remarkable in many ways. Amy isn’t the average runaway or child lost to trafficking. As he digs and digs at the only potential lead, Lily’s older brother, Lily finds herself confused, overwhelmed, and utterly out of her depth at these strange and unexplained circumstances.

“The Girl in Times Square” by Paullina Simons tells the stories of people who are lost, literally and figuratively. The story center’s on Amy’s absence, bringing together a cast of disparate characters each struggling with their own demons. Detective O’Malley’s dedication to the missing persons unit provides a convenient cover for his troubled past and oddly isolated present. Lily’s parents are barely able to offer perfunctory support to her while they grapple with overwhelming free time in retirement. Lily herself feels stuck and directionless, refusing to move on without Amy and simultaneously refusing to acknowledge her own stubbornness about doing so. Simons writes these characters in such a way as to emphasize and reinforce one another. Struggles and difficulties for one character are echoed or experienced exactly by another character. While the novel follows individual storylines, it also weaves them together around the central theme of Amy’s disappearance and coming to terms with the reality of changing and unknown circumstances. By starting with extensive exposition and writing from the perspective of multiple characters, Simons gives depth and detail to the characters, resulting in relatable, intriguing characters that wholly captivate the reader.

This book did eventually pick up speed to the point where I didn’t want to put it down, but it took a lot of exposition to get there. Probably halfway through the (600-page) book, the storyline finally started to come together in a way that I wanted to know the ending. Another interesting aspect of the novel is that it was written in 1999 and set in New York City, so it makes several references to locations and events that were altered in the aftermath of September 11th, 2001, which gave me a funny dual perspective between the reality of the novel and the reality of “in real life.” This is an enjoyable book if you have the time and patience for it.

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The Art Forger

by Barbara Shapiro

Claire Roth is a struggling artist in one of the soon-to-be up-and-coming districts of Boston, though her work is well-known. Under the name of a few other artists. She gained notoriety as “The Great Pretender” when she began work painting indistinguishable copies of masterpieces using centuries-old painting techniques. She considers herself an expert in the life and work of Degas, and painstakingly recreates his works using layers upon layers of oil and varnish, which leads a local art broker to offer her the opportunity to recreate a rare and treasured piece – Degas’ After the Bath. This is a unique opportunity for Claire not only because it has been one of her beloved works of art since childhood, but it is also the piece that was stolen from the museum almost 20 years ago and has been missing without any leads since then. Could this possibly be the piece that was stolen from the museum? Or is she copying a copy? Her questions about the origin and authenticity of the work lead her on a desperate search for any information she can find about the museum’s founder, Isabella Stewart Gardener. The answers, and lack thereof, lead to even greater mystery, controversy, and intrigue.

“The Art Forger” by Barbara Shapiro explores the world of art from the perspective of an insider on the outside. Claire’s “Great Pretender” status gives her a unique the ability to comment on the hierarchies, social norms, and taboos that are otherwise ignored by those on the inside of the art world. Her training in reproducing classic works of art gives her a more holistic and objective perspective in determining the authenticity of a work of art, whereas the experts in the field are caught up in the image and prestige of the field, which more often than not leads them to see what they want to see rather than what is really in front of their eyes. As a character, Claire stands firm in her truth, even when it causes problems for her and everyone in her life. Shapiro grounds this story in reasonably thorough art history and technique, providing context and detail for Claire’s artistic work and her investigations into After the Bath. Shapiro generally balances this information such that she provides enough structure for the story without getting losing the reader in inscrutable jargon, leaving everything with a bit more knowledge about art and art history.

Kudos to Shapiro for writing a book that makes me want to look at classical paintings! I felt that she jumped into too much technical detail with painting techniques early in the book, but eventually I caught on to what she was talking about. The plot also provided another pleasant surprise. I thought I knew where the story was going, but there were enough unexpected elements to keep me engrossed through the end of the story. Occasionally vapid, but generally enjoyable, I would recommend this book if you stumble upon it. It was a nice change of pace from my regular reading.

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