Fiona Davis comes to the blog with her latest historic fiction, with two characters set half a century apart in the art school hidden in Grand Central Terminal. Please read on for my review of
The year is 1974 and Virginia Clay, recently divorced and looking to find a foothold in New York that will allow her to support herself and her daughter, she’s brought in to work in the information desk at the Grand Central Terminal by a temp agency. There to provide answers while seeing the grime, decline and less-than-savory aspects of this once grand edifice, she’s captivated by the potential of what was, even as the building is on a list of soon to be demolished properties in the name of progress. But, she uncovers a lovely watercolor as she’s discovering the history of the terminal, simply signed Clyde, Virginia decides she wants to know more about this hidden gem high in the building, and just what other treasures may be uncovered here.
In 1928, a twenty-eight year old illustrator and artist, Clara Darden is teaching at the Grand Central School of Art. Talented and determined, she is constantly faced with the prejudice against her sex, and the public disdain for “lady artists” that came with a whole slew of pejoratives and assumptions about one’s personal moral code. Perhaps some were fitting, as Clara is single-mindedly determined to pursue her art, while never ignoring her own personal life: two suitors. Bohemian and oft scandalous friends, and a struggle with the turn of fortunes brought on by the depression will really push her determination to succeed to the edge.
Alternate perspectives, both intriguing in their own right – the juxtaposition of the Terminal and it’s condition, from beloved and central meeting point in the 20’s to decrepit and awaiting the wrecking ball in the 70’s, it’s easy to imagine the space and the life within. But, while I loved the stories of both Clara and Virginia, neither really demanded my attention or connected in ways that gave them life – Clara was easy to understand and empathize with her challenges, while Virginia’s personality was subjugated to the search for this Clyde and her discoveries, but never once did I feel the ‘need’ that she had to look further, or deeper. Historically, the story was laden with information and atmosphere, and not having known of the Grand Central School of Art before, it was a clever and quite engaging introduction that encouraged me to look further at the artists passing through its doors. I don’t know if it was the sense that a building superseded the need for characters, or I wanted more empathy and connection to them, but the story became, for me, more about the history and changes than the characters who revealed them.
Title: The Masterpiece
Author: Fiona Davis
Genre: Dual Timeline, Historical Fiction, Jazz Age, Setting: American
Published by: Dutton
Published on: 7 August, 2018
Source: Publisher Via Edelweiss
Audio Length: 11 Hours: 43 minutes
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For the nearly nine million people who live in New York City, Grand Central Terminal is a crown jewel, a masterpiece of design. But for Clara Darden and Virginia Clay, it represents something quite different.
For Clara, the terminal is the stepping stone to her future, which she is certain will shine as the brightly as the constellations on the main concourse ceiling. It is 1928, and twenty-five-year-old Clara is teaching at the lauded Grand Central School of Art. A talented illustrator, she has dreams of creating cover art for Vogue, but not even the prestige of the school can override the public’s disdain for a “woman artist.” Brash, fiery, confident, and single-minded–even while juggling the affections of two men, a wealthy would-be poet and a brilliant experimental painter–Clara is determined to achieve every creative success. But she and her bohemian friends have no idea that they’ll soon be blindsided by the looming Great Depression, an insatiable monster with the power to destroy the entire art scene. And even poverty and hunger will do little to prepare Clara for the greater tragedy yet to come.
Nearly fifty years later, in 1974, the terminal has declined almost as sharply as Virginia Clay’s life. Full of grime and danger, from the smoke-blackened ceiling to the pickpockets and drug dealers who roam the floor, Grand Central is at the center of a fierce lawsuit: Is the once-grand building a landmark to be preserved, or a cancer to be demolished? For Virginia, it is simply her last resort. Recently divorced, she has just accepted a job in the information booth in order to support herself and her college-age daughter, Ruby. But when Virginia stumbles upon an abandoned art school within the terminal and discovers a striking watercolor hidden under the dust, her eyes are opened to the elegance beneath the decay. She embarks on a quest to find the artist of the unsigned masterpiece–an impassioned chase that draws Virginia not only into the battle to save Grand Central but deep into the mystery of Clara Darden, the famed 1920s illustrator who disappeared from history in 1931.
A copy of this title was provided via Publisher Via Edelweiss for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges: