ImageBook Review: THE ART FORGER, B.A. Shapiro

Genre: Fiction (Contemporary / Boston / Art World / Art Forger / Art Dealer / Literary Thriller / Historical Figure Fictionalized / Degas)
Publisher/Publication Date: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill (10/23/2012)

 Publisher summary: On March 18, 1990, thirteen works of art today worth over $500 million were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. It remains the largest unsolved art heist in history, and Claire Roth, a struggling young artist, is about to discover that there’s more to this crime than meets the eye. 
 
 Making a living reproducing famous artworks for a popular online retailer and desperate to improve her situation, Claire is lured into a Faustian bargain with Aiden Markel, a powerful gallery owner. She agrees to forge a painting—a Degas masterpiece stolen from the Gardner Museum—in exchange for a one-woman show in his renowned gallery. But when that very same long-missing Degas painting is delivered to Claire’s studio, she begins to suspect that it may itself be a forgery. 
 
 Her desperate search for the truth leads Claire into a labyrinth of deceit where secrets hidden since the late nineteenth century may be the only evidence that can now save her life.

SPOILER: The Degas painting in question does not exist. Don’t waste twenty minutes (or MORE) looking for it on your Smartphone.

What I Think:

If art and Paris stroke your senses, combine that with pulling something over on the snooty and you have THE ART FORGER. Shapiro merges historical fact with her wonderful imagination in this tale of ambition, greed, heist and forgery through the eyes of Claire Roth, a struggling artist with a tainted past and (fictionalized) letters of Isabella Stewart Gardner, an infamous Boston art collector.

Driven by the need to clear her name and establish herself, Claire Roth is shrewd and deals well with conflict, but is not as likeable as she could have been. Her involvement with boys at a juvenile prison where she teaches art is used only as a tool to discover more about forgeries and foreshadow Claire’s brushes with the law. Bitterness over past betrayals within the art community comes through in self-deprecating humor and is sometimes, laugh-out-loud funny, but Claire lacks heart.

Shapiro paints clear descriptions of setting and I had no trouble picturing characters or understanding their motives. The internal struggle Claire faces – her own original works, side by side with the forgeries/ copies she creates provides a great backdrop for the external plot. Museum authorities, art critics and federal agents race to discover the answer of what is authentic art, doubting Claire’s story – and who she is trying to protect –  the entire way.

I particularly enjoyed learning about the world of art forgery. Shapiro’s descriptions of paint and forgeries –  how time affects oil and canvas  – captivated my scientific side. Let’s face it, we all like books that make us feel a bit smarter at the end. THE ART FORGER is a fun read and a fascinating introduction to the world of art, forgery and deception.

For today’s interview I am excited to introduce my good friend, Kimberly Brock, and her debut novel, THE RIVER WITCH, a Pulpwood Queens Official Selection book and the SheReads selection for the month of June. Joshilyn Jackson calls Kimberly’s book, “One debut you should not miss.”

So, Kimberly. How do you feel about THE RIVER WITCH’s amazing success? 

I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about success. I don’t look at numbers. Really, I’m pleased with the good reviews, but I haven’t spent time reading them myself so much as I’ve been told about them. I’m focused on writing the next book, on responding to readers on blogs and at readings, scheduling appearances and festivals. Success for me will be that I get to keep writing and sharing stories.

But I will share this special experience: a reader contacted me after finishing the book to tell me that she’d suffered the loss of a stillborn child years ago. She’d never been allowed to grieve or to honor that child with a memorial or even a name. As an adult with other grown children, she was very moved by THE RIVER WITCH. She finally allowed herself to grieve, to memorialize and name her baby. To me, that is the story’s success – that it touched someone where they live. I don’t know if that’s got much to do with me, but I do know that it means the work has inherent worth. I’ll never forget that.

When did you first get the writing bug?

I’ve been a storyteller all my life. Ask my family, who endured many hours of reenacted Disney films or impromptu plays. Ask my childhood friends and teachers, who swallowed tall tales and ghost stories whole on the playground and paid the price later, afraid to sleep in their beds. They believed I had descended from an angry Cherokee Indian Chief. They believed I was going blind like Helen Keller. I was in trouble all the time for inventing and embellishing. And then, around the age of five somebody gave me a crayon and that was that. That’s when I became a writer.

Can you tell us how you went about research for The River Witch? Which part came first and how did you go about gathering what you needed from there?

Horribly. That’s how I went about research. Honestly, it’s not a very good process. I do it all the hard way, pulling articles out of magazines or printing them or bookmarking them on my laptop. Eventually, I had this pile of unrelated facts, stories and reports that grabbed my attention. Some of it came as I was writing – like the alligators. I read a lot about them and listened to recordings of their roaring. Other times, I went in search of a thing, like the Sacred Harp music. I watched documentaries and reads books and listened to recordings that I downloaded onto my iPod. Eventually, it’s a matter of having the knowledge in my head, the essence of a thing, so that when I write a scene, those facts and details appear there naturally. At least that’s what I hope happens – that the things I’ve learned and obsessed over will translate in the writing as setting and character and metaphor, give the story momentum and depth, but not sit there on display or seem like a regurgitated report on a subject.

How is your next project going?

Slowly. It is a story that began to take shape for me years ago when I stumbled across an obscure piece of history in my home state of Georgia. A lot of research has gone into this project, including some travel. I’m still fascinated with this idea and in the frustrating stages of waiting for it to take shape on the page. But I’m in love with it and eager to see what it becomes in the next few months.

As a writer, what is your greatest challenge?

I’m a writer, but I’m also a mother and wife and daughter. Time is always the challenge for any writer, finding a balance between living a full life and writing. I am impatient to go from the germ of an idea to a finished project and I want everything else in my life to fall in line so I can devote myself to that goal. But life doesn’t operate that way, and neither does the creative process. And by the way, unless you leave the writing long enough to live a full life, you find there’s nothing to write about. You have nothing to say. So, for me it’s always a challenge to leave the writing and know that when I come back to the desk, I’ll be better for it and so will my work.

What is your greatest victory?

My family – my marriage to my best friend and the home we’ve made with our three children. With the publication of my first novel, I saw my kids witness the fulfillment of a dream after years of dedicated work. That single moment, seeing their faces, was my greatest victory. Knowing that long after I’m gone, long after anything I have written is forgotten, they’ll have that memory to pass down to their children for courage.

THANKS, KIMBERLY!!

You can visit Kimberly Brock at kimberlybrockbooks.com. Her list of books signings and appearances are listed there.

You can find THE RIVER WITCH on Amazon.com and these other retailers:

It starts small.

Like a breeze in the fold of your mind as the snow clouds gather.

“I need something cool and fruity. Let’s stop by Whole Foods. I heard they have Costa Rican pineapple this week.”

Hmm. You wonder what the weather is like in Costa Rica. You check the Travel Channel. Nice. A catalog with a preview for Spring Clothes  ARRIVES IN YOUR MAILBOX.

You’re not the cruising type, but isn’t that water pretty and clear? You can see all manner of sea life, Honey. And my, what a blue sky.

Jimmy Buffett comes on the radio. He’s in Margaritaville, which you know is fictional, yet consistent with the sandals on page 34 of the catalog. You schedule a pedicure and consider songwriting.

Other people – those that enjoy cold weather and believe snow is an opportunity, make plans for skiing and snowboarding.

But not you. You debate the difference between Chilly and Downright Unnecessarily Freaky Cold. You fill your bath tub and pretend you’re in Aruba.

Your significant other inquires after your thyroid. Perhaps you need to have it checked. The red flags for low thyroid are Extreme sensitivity to cold and Lethargy. It sounds like you, but you know what would fix all of this… Salt Water. Buckets of it.

You decide that you next article, short story, etc, has a warm locale. In fact, a trip will be written off on the research & time spent near the equator. It’s not Europe, but hey, look at Randy Wayne White,  Gabriel García Márquez and even Mark Twain. Research under the new electric blanket is not the same.

Freelancing jobs can be scarce. You buy more pineapple. More listening to Jack Johnson. More Jimmy Buffett. You grill out in the freezing rain and laugh at the absurdity.

You check the internet for deals.

Soon enough,You have your story outlined, more or less, about a heart broken girl, unhappy with her life in _(cold environment)__ who finds satisfaction in _(warm environment)_ through _(discovering her life-long dream/herself)_ after her conflict with _(her psychotic mother, neglectful father, faithless boyfriend/husband)_.

Blah, blah, throw in some history that ties into the subplot and the internal journey and “HONEY! Don’t we have some Sky miles somewhere??!! I have to go to BRAZIL.”

“Brazil?”

“Or maybeArgentina,” you say, throwing back the electric blanket and ripping open you dresser. “Where is my bikini? I have a story to write!”

He frowns as if something is wrong with you. Like the winter is just doing it’s NORMAL thing. Like this happens every year.

“Did you make the appointment to get your thyroid checked?”

Nothing is wrong with your thyroid. You simply hate winter from the bottom of your soul. Snow is for looking at. In a picture. And for the life of you, you don’t understand why people have paintings of snow scenes hung on their walls, just looking at those makes you cold. If seasons are metaphors for life, and winter is death, why would anybody hang that on their wall? Might as well be a picture of a casket.

So, with that incredibly sane argument, a trip is made. Because you threatened never to make pound cake again. Because you love one another and have something to celebrate. Because he’s tired of hearing it. Because you’ve both been working hard and need to reconnect.

And quite suddenly, you feel better about the world. The story will be killer because you already lived it.

If just for one cold January afternoon.