Further Reading: Statues

A side-effect of the events in Charlottesville and the President’s response to them was a reminder that statues—their presence, absence, and context—are pretty darn important. The following novels, linked to their excerpted Booklist reviews, put statues at the front and center of the drama.

 

 The Amazing, Enlightening and Absolutely True Adventures of Katherine Whaley, written and illustrated by Kim Deitch

In 1913, in an upstate New York boomtown gone bust, Katherine Whaley teaches school and plays piano in the sole thriving business, a movie theater. She enjoys the adventurous movie serials starring Pearl White, Ruth Roland, Grace Cunard—and Molly O’Dare, for whom Katherine stands in when the drunken star comes to town, drawing the attention of the man who soon changes her life, Charles Varnay. Rich, eccentric Varnay recruits Katherine to star in a serial he will make based on her resemblance (in the nude, no less) to the ancient statue of an original follower of Jesus.

 

 Avenue of Mysteries, by John Irving

The giant dump in Oaxaca, Mexico, hardly seems like fertile ground for a future novelist, yet Juan Diego, the only one who can understand his sister’s extraordinary pronouncements as a mind reader and clairvoyant, teaches himself to read Spanish and English, burning his hands as he pulls books from dump fires. Those wounds heal, but an accident leaves him with a smashed foot and severe limp. Now a famous writer living in the U.S. with alarmingly high blood pressure, Juan Diego tells his fantastic story in trancelike flashbacks. Irving is spectacularly hilarious and incisive in this tender, mystical, yet caustic tale, which features a wrathful statue of the Virgin Mary and impassioned castigations of the church’s tragic failings.

 

 Hard Going, by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

The always-reliable Harrod-Eagles pulls another rabbit out of the hat with her latest Bill Slider crime story. The plot is distinctive and well structured, the descriptions of plodding police work authentic-seeming, and the characters colorful, but it’s the repartee and the laugh-aloud dark humor that sets this book apart from other procedurals. Slider is called to investigate the brutal murder of Lionel Bygood, who has been beaten to death with a gold statue from his own mantelpiece.

 

 Monumental Propaganda, by Vladimir Voinovich

Aglaya Stepanovna Revkina is a committed Stalinist who, unlike her more flexible comrades, refuses to bend to the shifting political winds in the Soviet Union. The novel begins in 1956, just after Nikita Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin at the twentieth Communist Party congress. Aglaya is not only politically inflexible but her love for Stalin has a distinctly erotic twist, especially as related in a flashback. She rescues the statue of the dictator just as it is being hauled from the town square to a scrap-metal yard and, to the consternation of her neighbors in the apartment below, installs it in her own apartment.

 

 

 The Principals, by Bill James

Dr. Lawford Chute, president of Sedge University, was a belligerent visionary who aimed to make Sedge a dominant player in British academia by merging the school with Charter Mill College, a moneymaking institution offering courses in pop-group management, pinball, and fruit-machine repair. But his ambition took him down wrong paths, and his rival, Dr. Victor Tane, president of Charter Mill, turned the tables, forcing Chute to retire in disgrace. Twenty years later, Chute’s tarnished reputation has been restored, and the university has decided to erect statues to him and Tane for their brilliance and vision. Now, however, the real test begins, as the Commemorative Statues Committee is faced with the daunting task of determining the relative size and position of the two sculptures as well as choosing the model on which the sculptor will base the two works.

 

 Remember Ben Clayton, by Stephen Harrigan

Like the statue at its center, Harrigan’s novel is a stunning work of art resting on a solid base of heartbreak. The action ranges from the Texas plains to the devastated northern French landscape, with the presence of the violent Wild West strongly lingering. Wealthy rancher Lamar Clayton had raised his son alone after his much younger wife’s death. Now Ben is dead, killed in WWI, and his taciturn father wants to memorialize him in bronze. “Gil” Gilheaney, a brilliant, ambitious sculptor, accepts the commission. Gil’s daughter Maureen, a talented artist herself, assists him while quietly pursuing her own dreams. To shape Ben’s character into clay, they trace the dusty paths he once walked, but only his friend Arthur, a disfigured veteran, knows why Ben was so careless with his life.

 

 

Comments

comments

About the Author:

Eugenia Williamson is the Associate Editor of Digital Products at Booklist. She worked in bookstores for twelve years, reviews books for The Boston Globe, and writes about books, culture, and politics for several other publications. Follow her on Twitter at @Booklist_Genie.

Post a Comment