Title: Life Studies: Stories
Author: Susan Vreeland
Genre: Historical fiction
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.