three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
51-Mar-Apr-2011
user_rating: 
0

A-ClaraTiffany

The Story: When the strong-willed Clara Driscoll, who narrates the novel, is left a young widow, she goes to live in a bohemian boardinghouse and returns to work in the women's department at Tiffany Studios. Soon, she is crafting the jewel-toned leaded glass windows and lamps that will make Louis Tiffany famous. Struggling to obtain happiness in her personal life and recognition in her professional one, Clara champions her fellow workers when an all-male union threatens them. But, for all her toils and behind-the-scenes creative brilliance, her work remains publicly unacknowledged. Worse yet, Clara must choose between romantic love and artistic expression.
Random House. 432 pages. $26. ISBN: 9781400068166

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"The book brims with fascinating information about Tiffany's glassmaking and about New York as its gilded age gives way to a more progressive era. ... Vreeland's ability to make this complex historical novel as luminous as a Tiffany lamp is nothing less than remarkable." Eugenia Zukerman

Christian Science Monitor 3.5 of 5 Stars
"... her most successful novel since her first, Girl in Hyacinth Blue." Yvonne Zipp

Lincoln Journal-Star 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Once past the interesting history of Mrs. Driscoll's invention of the Tiffany lamp itself and the details of the making, storage, selection, cutting and placement of glass, the most interesting parts of the book, for me, were the background details of life in New York City after the Gilded Age, capturing the early rise of a new middle class. ... Clara and Mr. Tiffany is a pleasant and expansive view of a slower and, for some, beautiful time, with a vicious, impoverished underside, both of which are important to know and remember." Kandra Hahn

NJ Star-Ledger 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Vreeland's description of the processes involved in producing stained glass pieces -- from glassblowing to choosing the perfect colors and cutting thousands of pieces of glass to render the flower or butterfly or seasonal motif -- are fascinating, making Clara and Mr. Tiffany not only an enjoyable read, but an illuminating one as well." Jean Graham

USA Today 3 of 5 Stars
"About three-quarters in, the novel suddenly gets as hot as a glass factory as the women's department is threatened by unionized men and Clara rises up like Susan B. Anthony. ... It's an interesting story that will intrigue patient readers." Jocelyn McClurg

Barnes and Noble Review 2.5 of 5 Stars
"While Vreeland provides a wealth of details about Clara's work--up to and including her method of bookkeeping--she dispenses with Clara's entire history in a single paragraph of clipped sentences. ... Neither biography nor fantasy, Clara and Mr. Tiffany is too often a frustrating mix of both."

Critical Summary

Although not all the reviewers have yet weighed in, the critical consensus thus far remains mixed about Vreeland's foray into early 20th-century New York. One critic wondered whether, since the Tiffany lamp "has lost some of its original fascination and wonder" (Barnes and Noble Review), the hidden story behind its creator would interest readers. And, although the Washington Post was captivated by the details about glass-blowing, others felt that excessive detail obscured not only Clara's personality but what could have been a more dramatic tale about art versus love. Still, as in her previous novels, Vreeland offers a valuable window into an era and a woman ahead of her time.