A young girl follows her mother and a wayward group of artists into the Mexican jungle on the eve of World War II in this spare, enchanting novel.
Fourteen-year-old Lara Calaway just wants her mother to notice her. Instead, Leonora, a wealthy New York socialite, is more interested in collecting members of the avant-garde. There's Konrad, a traumatized painter, whom Leonora marries; C., Konrad's longtime lover, a forceful and dedicated writer with hair that "floats around her face like an evil halo"; and the loathed Hetty, "the only other woman with us in Mexico…[who] is just horrible." Maum (Touch, 2017, etc.) depicts Lara's curiosity and longing in exquisite, diary-style vignettes, sketches, notes, and unsent letters. "He'd be so beautiful if he were happy," she muses about Konrad, her new stepfather. "Sometimes at the parties when I catch the way he is with C., I hate my mother for the way she has to have the things that everybody likes." According to Maum, Leonora and Lara Calaway are based loosely on Peggy Guggenheim and her daughter Pegeen while the artists who make up "the entire bin of loons" at Costalegre are composites of surrealists like André Breton, Leonora Carrington, and Djuna Barnes. Lara makes for a fine narrator—young enough to be both enchanted and annoyed by the strange collection of adults that surround her and old enough to explain her frustrations with heartbreaking clarity. Only occasionally does Maum allow her teenager to really sound like a teenager, and then it's played for laughs. "If she ends up putting her museum here," Lara writes of Costalegre and her mother, "I am going to die." Occasional theatrics aside, Lara blooms when she encounters a Dadaist sculptor from Germany, moved by his work and his ability to really see her, "you know, in that way that feels like something has been thrown directly toward you, as if you're on the other end of a straight line." The novel closes as quickly as it opens, in a moment of teenage confusion, rage, and hope.
A lush chronicle of wealth, art, adventure, loneliness, love, and folly told by a narrator you won't be able to forget.