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The MuralistReview - The Muralist
A Novel
by B. A. Shapiro
HighBridge Company, 2015
Review by Christian Perring
Feb 16th 2016 (Volume 20, Issue 7)

B.A. Shaprio's carefully constructed novel has two narrators and two main themes. Danielle Abrams is a painter who works for a major auction house, when she comes across the work of her great-aunt, Alizée Benoit, who was a contemporary of the abstract expressionists, and spent her time with the likes of Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner. Danielle investigates the mystery by talking to her grandmother and mother about the past, her art world friends and colleagues, and ultimately going on a trip.

The other main narrator is Alizée herself, (or at least a narrator writing from her perspective), telling her story from 1940, living as an artist in New York City. She does abstract murals, and she is keen to get her work shown more widely. She pushes to get hired by the Federal Art Project, which existed from 1935 to 1943, as part of the Works Progress Administration. She manages to strike up a connection with Eleanor Roosevelt who takes a liking to Alizée and advocates for her cause. We learn both about the relationships between the artists and some of their ideas about the nature of their work.

But Alizée is also very preoccupied by the task of helping her Jewish relatives in Germany get out before they are rounded up by the Nazis.  She is outraged by the failure of FDR's administration to take responsibility for refugees and people who needed asylum. Readers learn a great deal about the political situation, the anti-Semitism  of some of the top officials, and the terrible plight of some people in ships going from country to country, trying to find some place to live, but rejected again and again. This part of the plot has particular resonance with many contemporary news items.

The Muralist is good read, and also has strong educational value. The writing has a slightly formal quality, but it works. The unabridged audiobook is performed by Xe Sands, whose voice is distinctively arch, seductive, and frantic. Listeners familiar with her voice will recognize her instantly, and her performance has a major effect on how the novel comes across to the listener. The book would probably feel very different if another performer had done the job. It's certainly a strong reading, but one might wonder if the book might have a more immediate emotional hold on the listener with a reading that didn't come across so much as a performance.

 

© 2016 Christian Perring

 

Christian Perring, Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York


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