The Muralist by B.A. Shapiro
A few years ago, I read B.A. Shapiro’s bestselling novel The Art Forger, and loved it. Earlier this year, Shapiro’s next novel, The Muralist, came out on shelves, and of course I knew I had to read it. It’s that way with writers whose work we enjoy once, we usually enjoy again.
Like The Art Forger, The Muralist is set in the past but also contains a character trying to solve a current day mystery. In The Muralist, Danielle, the great-niece of an artist named Alizée Benoit, tries to determine what happened to her great-aunt in the 1940s when she disappeared.
Danielle uses interviews, books, newspaper articles, and an old unsigned piece of a painting to track Alizée’s disappearance. Throughout the story, in alternating periods of time, the reader meets interesting characters who may or may not have something to do with Alizée’s vanishing.
The art camp Alizée lived and worked around included many now-famous notables including Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, and Lee Krasner. All of these artists form the backbone of Abstract Expressionism, and in The Muralist, their stories merge with Alizée’s.
Eleanor Roosevelt, then the First Lady, also has cameo appearances throughout The Muralist. Her part in the Public Works of Art Project and the Works Progress Arts program, part of FDR’s New Deal program to fund the visual arts in the United States, impacts Alizée and her group of not-yet-famous friends.
I appreciated the amount of research Shapiro did to accomplish this novel in as much detail as possible. Her real-world characters became more than merely a famous artist name for me, and now live in my mind as multi-dimensional people who struggled in many ways to accomplish their art and create a name.
In the end, the events and happenings merge together from both the present and past stories to form a satisfying ending, and left me with a different and fuller appreciation of the meaning of art and expression over time. Those who enjoyed The Art Forger and historical fiction with modern-day impact will find a great late-summer read in The Muralist.
Have you read The Muralist? We’d love to hear what you think — please share in the comments below. Thanks!
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