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THE AMBROSE J. AND VIVIAN T. SEAGRAVE MUSEUM OF 20TH CENTURY AMERICAN ART

A novel of ideas whose appeal goes far beyond its target audience—be it literary readers skeptical of yet another postmodern...

An elderly woman's first visit to a prestigious (though provincial) museum collides with the otherworldly interests of its curator.

The buzzword nowadays in art-world circles is access—how the concerns and biases of the institution or curator affect which individuals feel welcomed within the museum space. In his first novel, Kirkpatrick (The Exiles, 2013, etc.) weaves a playful and compelling tale that addresses the issue holistically. With the exception of the patrons from whom the fictional museum takes its name, the principal characters remain unnamed. Ambrose J. and Vivian T. Seagrave have lost their daughter, Kendall, through a boating accident instigated by one of their artist hangers-on. Thus, the museum displays the late scion's dollhouses (begrudgingly) and the more esoteric favorites of the curator (haphazardly). Kirkpatrick further addresses the relationship between art patrons and their enthusiasms through allegory; the curator falls in love with the "ghost" of Iris Babbitt, a painter who appears loosely modeled on Georgia O'Keeffe. As the museum tags situating the reader in time and space become longer and stranger, the question of what entity is imposing order on our museum journey pops up. However, interspersed with the onslaught of seemingly disparate information are the ruminations of an elderly town resident visiting the museum for the first time; the woman's narrative, which contends with her own perspective on death and loss, undercuts the curator's. Rather than being led around based on the institution's whim and fancy, we're forced to discern how personal interactions shade our perceptions of art as well as whether the backers responsible for the space have any impact on the viewer outside of financials. Plus we get the surface pleasure of discerning how the author has constructed a plot within these parameters.

A novel of ideas whose appeal goes far beyond its target audience—be it literary readers skeptical of yet another postmodern yarn or art-world enthusiasts jaded about its ivory-tower state of affairs.

Pub Date: March 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-946724-16-8

Page Count: 312

Publisher: Acre

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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ABSOLUTE POWER

The mother of all presidential cover-ups is the centerpiece gimmick in this far-fetched thriller from first-novelist Baldacci, a Washington-based attorney. In the dead of night, while burgling an exurban Virginia mansion, career criminal Luther Whitney is forced to conceal himself in a walk-in closet when Christine Sullivan, the lady of the house, arrives in the bedroom he's ransacking with none other than Alan Richmond, President of the US. Through the one-way mirror, Luther watches the drunken couple engage in a bout of rough sex that gets out of hand, ending only when two Secret Service men respond to the Chief Executive's cries of distress and gun down the letter-opener-wielding Christy. Gloria Russell, Richmond's vaultingly ambitious chief of staff, orders the scene rigged to look like a break-in and departs with the still befuddled President, leaving Christy's corpse to be discovered at another time. Luther makes tracks as well, though not before being spotted on the run by agents from the bodyguard detail. Aware that he's shortened his life expectancy, Luther retains trusted friend Jack Graham, a former public defender, but doesn't tell him the whole story. When Luther's slain before he can be arraigned for Christy's murder, Jack concludes he's the designated fall guy in a major scandal. Meanwhile, little Gloria (together with two Secret Service shooters) hopes to erase all tracks that might lead to the White House. But the late Luther seems to have outsmarted her in advance with recurrent demands for hush money. The body count rises as Gloria's attack dogs and Jack search for the evidence cunning Luther's left to incriminate not only a venal Alan Richmond but his homicidal deputies. The not-with-a-bang-but-a-whimper climax provides an unsurprising answer to the question of whether a US president can get away with murder. For all its arresting premise, an overblown and tedious tale of capital sins. (Film rights to Castle Rock; Book-of-the-Month selection)

Pub Date: Jan. 18, 1996

ISBN: 0-446-51996-0

Page Count: 480

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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THE SECRET HISTORY

The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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