A moving and intensely introspective portrait of the way art is created and life relinquished.

LYDIA CASSATT READING THE MORNING PAPER

Shaded with intimations of mortality, a second novel touches tenderly on the relationship between Impressionist painter Mary Cassatt (1844?–1926) and her ailing older sister Lydia. Chessman (Ohio Angels, 1999) uses five of Cassatt’s paintings and their circumstances to shape her story.

Lydia, who suffers both from Bright’s disease and from twinges of remorse at a life less fulfilled than her free-spirited sister’s, is happy to pose for May (Mary) when asked and when able: most importantly, it gives the sisters time to enjoy the closeness they’ve long shared. For May, Lydia is both confidante and protector, possessed of a calm and sensible demeanor that the artist admires and relies upon. For Lydia, May is the one who, with enviable fullness, is truly experiencing this life of theirs in Paris of the late 1870s. In addition to her admiration for May’s bohemian ways and the growing luster of her artistic reputation, May’s friend Edgar Degas, who visits their sittings frequently and with whom May is increasingly intimate, reminds Lydia of her own romantic possibilities, lost on the battlefields of the Civil War. But Lydia is also mindful of her decline in ways that none of her family, already scarred by several untimely deaths, can acknowledge—not even May, who nurses her sister through one bedridden bout of fever after another and whose paintings of her Lydia scans intensely after they’ve been finished, as if they were telling her future. The artist and her muse move along increasingly separate paths, one to greater renown, the other to more debilitating illness, but each in her heart knows how much she has gained from the other.

A moving and intensely introspective portrait of the way art is created and life relinquished.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-58322-272-3

Page Count: 164

Publisher: Seven Stories

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2001

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A clever and current book about a complicated woman and her romantic relationships.

CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS

The story of the entangled affairs of a group of exceedingly smart and self-possessed creative types.

Frances, an aloof and intelligent 21-year-old living in Dublin, is an aspiring poet and communist. She performs her spoken-word pieces with her best friend and ex-lover, Bobbi, who is equally intellectual but gregarious where Frances is shy and composed where Frances is awkward. When Melissa, a notable writer and photographer, approaches the pair to offer to do a profile of them, they accept excitedly. While Bobbi is taken with Melissa, Frances becomes infatuated by her life—her success, her beautiful home, her actor husband, Nick. Nick is handsome and mysterious and, it turns out, returns Frances’ attraction. Although he can sometimes be withholding of his affection (he struggles with depression), they begin a passionate affair. Frances and Nick’s relationship makes difficult the already tense (for its intensity) relationship between Frances and Bobbi. In the midst of this complicated dynamic, Frances is also managing endometriosis and neglectful parents—an abusive, alcoholic father and complicit mother. As a narrator, Frances describes all these complex fragments in an ethereal and thoughtful but self-loathing way. Rooney captures the mood and voice of contemporary women and their interpersonal connections and concerns without being remotely predictable. In her debut novel, she deftly illustrates psychology’s first lesson: that everyone is doomed to repeat their patterns.

A clever and current book about a complicated woman and her romantic relationships.

Pub Date: July 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-451-49905-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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NORMAL PEOPLE

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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