Elm Howells has a loving family and a distinguished career at an elite Manhattan auction house. Read more...
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Elm Howells has a loving family and a distinguished career at an elite Manhattan auction house. But after a tragic loss throws her into an emotional crisis, she pursues a reckless course of action that jeopardizes her personal and professional success. Meanwhile, talented artist Gabriel Connois wearies of remaining at the margins of the capricious Parisian art scene, and, desperate for recognition, he embarks on a scheme that threatens his burgeoning reputation. As these narratives converge, with disastrous consequences, "A Nearly Perfect Copy" boldly challenges our presumptions about originality and authenticity, loss and replacement, and the perilous pursuit of perfection.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-01-07
- Reviewer: Staff
In Amend’s clever, wry second novel (after Stations West) American art expert Elm Howells enjoys her work at Tinsley’s, the auction house her great-grandfather founded, but the recent loss of her young son has become an obsession she can’t shake. When she learns at a party that the hosts plan to clone their dead dog in Europe, Elm sets off on an unlikely path to get her precious son back—literally. Meanwhile, Spanish painter Gabriel Connois, the great-grandson of renowned painter Marcel Connois of the mid-19th-century group Les Hiverains, finds himself, after two decades in France, still a cultural and art world outsider. But at a friend’s show, he meets Colette, who works in the French branch of Tinsley’s, and she introduces him to her wealthy uncle, Augustus Klinman, who commissions Gabriel to do a slew of drawings in the style of Les Hiverains. Decorating luxury hotels not only gives Gabriel a lot of money, it leads to a solo show. Colette connects Elm with Klinman, who is attempting to pass off Gabriel’s work as authentic Les Hiverains. She smells a rat, but cloning isn’t cheap and she enters into a complicated moral dilemma. Amend makes her characters immediately real, depicting their complicated desires and decisions in a highly enjoyable, nearly perfect novel. Agent: Terra Chalberg, Chalberg & Sussman. (Apr.)
A collision of art and life
Elm Howells led a charmed life. As a member of the Tinsley family, she found use for her art history degree through employment at the family’s prestigious New York City auction house. She also found joy outside of work: Elm and her husband, Colin, were the parents of son Ronan and daughter Moira. But her life was forever changed during a 2004 vacation to Thailand, when Ronan was swept away by a tsunami. In the years since, his death has colored everything in Elm’s life, including the decisions she makes at work.
Meanwhile, Spanish-born painter Gabriel Connois is trying to make a name for himself in Paris’ art scene. His adopted last name is already a success, thanks to his distant ancestor Marcel Connois. Gabriel has taken steps to prove his talent as well: He financed his Parisian art education by forging a Connois painting that belonged to his mother so he could replace it, and then sell the original. When an art dealer approaches Gabriel to paint a number of works “in the style of” famed artists, the money and the opportunity are too good to pass up.
Elm is desperate to reduce the pain caused by her son’s death. Gabriel is determined to get his shot at artistic success, no matter the cost. In Allison Amend’s A Nearly Perfect Copy, the lives of these art connoisseurs run along parallel, and sometimes intersecting, paths as Elm and Gabriel go to extremes in their work and personal lives.
Amend’s talent is on full display as these smart, complex narratives dance around each other, each capturing the reader’s imagination without ever detracting from the other story. Although she’s received critical acclaim for her work in a number of literary publications and for her historical novel, Stations West, this finely rendered portrait of two lives should introduce Amend to a wider audience.