Book Review: Life Studies by Susan Vreeland

lifesTitle: Life Studies: Stories
Author: Susan Vreeland
Genre: Historical fiction
Publisher: Penguin
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Print copy from my own library
First line: Jerome did not want to go to his sister’s garden party.

I’m not sure how Susan Vreeland remained under my radar for so long. I knew her books were out there, but until my friend Michelle mentioned her Girl in Hyacinth Blue to me, I hadn’t noticed her books. I felt the same way when I listened to Tracy Chevalier’s Burning Bright on audio book: “Why have I not read this author before? I’ve been missing something wonderful!”

Life Studies is a book of short stories, divided into three sections. The first section, “Then,” includes stories that revolve around famous artists and the people in their lives. We see Monet painting his wife’s death, while his mistress waits downstairs with the family. We see Manet’s wife trying to deal with his legacy of infidelity after his death. We see a gardener who keeps an older Monet’s garden just perfect for the artist to paint. We see the illegitimate daughter of Modigliani try to find the father behind the artist. And along the way, we see through artists’ eyes, and the world becomes a more beautiful place.

The second section is titled “Interlude,” and includes only one delightful story, “The Adventures of Bernardo and Salvatore.” Two Tuscan men work and save and scrimp in order to make a trip to see Italy’s great art. The friendship between the two men – perfectly captured in an argument about the superiority of Raphael over Michelangelo on their way home – is funny and true.

The third and final section, “Now,” includes more modern stories about how art intersects with life. A young girl experiences her grandfather’s death. A mother sees her son becoming a man before her eyes. A teacher finds that beauty can exist without museums, ballet, and symphonies.

Vreeland’s writing is moving and seems infused with light, just like the works of the artists she writes about. The first section was my favorite, and made me want to find a really good book on the Impressionists.

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12 Responses to Book Review: Life Studies by Susan Vreeland

  1. Sandy
    Twitter: youvegottaread
    says:

    What a unique idea! I’ve read short stories, and I’ve read stories about artists, but not the combination. I’ll have to also check out the author. Don’t you love it when you discover a hidden gem?
    .-= Sandy´s last blog ..Reading Between the Wines: Literacy, Wine and Authors…what more can you ask for? =-.

  2. Valerie says:

    Wow! I’m an art buff (recognized the art on the cover as one by Modigliani) and I haven’t heard of this book! I’m definitely looking out for it. The author’s name seems vaguely familiar, though.
    .-= Valerie´s last blog ..Review: “The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin” by Josh Berk =-.

  3. Anna says:

    This sounds delightful, and the cover is just beautiful! Thanks for bring this book to my attention.
    .-= Anna´s last blog ..Mailbox Monday — February 22 =-.

  4. I don’t read many short stories but this collection sounds good!

  5. heidenkind says:

    I got this book from the library when someone recommended it, but I didn’t read it. Books and stories about Manet make me nervous because he’s my imaginary boyfriend. =/
    .-= heidenkind´s last blog ..Searching for Donatello =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Tasha – I think you’re the only person I know with a dead artist for an imaginary boyfriend!

  6. Kim
    Twitter: BookstoreK
    says:

    I didn’t like the book as much as you, but it could be because her voice doesn’t change all that much from story to story, so I found myself trying to novelize the book. I recommend not reading them one right after the other, probably good advice for many books of short stories. That being said, I loved the story about the two friends and have thought of it with joy several times. Did you read this for the art history challenge?
    Here’s a link to the author’s page with the paintings and the corresponding pieces of art: http://www.svreeland.com/ls-paintings.html
    .-= Kim´s last blog ..The Value of a First Draft =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Kim – yes a lot of short story collections work best if you dip into them for a story or two, then take a break. And thank you so much for the link! I actually read this last year, and have been editing and re-posting reviews from the site where I previously had my blog. So it doesn’t count toward the Art History Challenge, but I’m reading The Creation of Eve by Lynn Cullen right now, and that one will count.

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