I Always Loved You
By Robin Oliveira. (Viking, 343 pages, $27.95.)
Whatever the truth was between Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas, we’ll never know. Their letters went up in flames long ago, leaving only a century of speculation.
Robin Oliveira fills the void with an imaginative yet faithful story of what might have been.
The two artists/friends/collaborators (and lovers?) were stars of the Impressionist movement in Belle Epoque Paris. In real life, their friends and families wondered what went on between them in their studios.
In her novel, Oliveira opts for a love story, but she doesn’t just make it up. Instead, much as Degas used wire and wood to shape his groundbreaking wax dancer, Oliveira shapes a tense romance around the known facts of their lives. How they worked and exhibited together, how he invited her to join the Impressionist shows, how she posed for him, how they often fought, both too strong-willed and talented to yield.
As their lives and work ebb, Oliveira notes the irony of Cassatt’s fame for depicting mothers and children: “While Mary has painted love and seen love and been admired for seeing and painting love, somehow she has not managed to have love.”
Although it helps to enjoy art and these artists, this well-told tale will satisfy readers who like “The Paris Wife” and other fact/fiction ensembles.
Topics team leader
That Part was True
By Deborah McKinley. (Grand Central Publishing, 240 pages, $24.)
This delightful little novel is a reminder of the lost art of letter writing and the magic it can hold. When Eve Petworth writes a fan letter to author Jackson Cooper, the two begin a sweet correspondence over their shared interest in food and cooking. As Eve’s first letter states, “I could probably contact you more directly by e-mail, but the effort of handwriting will encourage me to choose my words carefully.”
Both correspondents are going through a period of grief. Jackson is weathering a divorce, while Eve, long divorced, is dealing with the death of her mother and is trying to get closer with her own daughter. Putting a pen to paper allows time to ponder. It’s almost a form of journaling, as these two characters learn. The fact that an ocean separates them is key, because meeting in person would require commitment. As they begin to talk of a weekend in Paris, they are forced to ask themselves honestly what they are seeking both from the relationship and from life. The surprise ending will leave you smiling.
Judy Romanowich Smith