four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
15-Mar-Apr-2005
user_rating: 
0

Stories

A-LifeStudiesIn this short story collection, Vreeland casts a sensitive eye towards artists and the people around them. The first section explores the Impressionist and post-Impressionist worlds of Renoir, Van Gogh, Cézanne, and other artists from the perspective of ordinary people including a wet nurse, a banker, and an elderly gardener at Giverny who watches Monet burn water lily paintings in frustration. The second section features contemporary Americans transformed by artists. A girl looks to Picasso for understanding of her grandfather’s death; an unhappy wife finds strength in modeling nude for a sculpting class. Each story tells of human strength and resistance, and each shows how art can both inspire and heal.
Viking. 292 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0670031771

Chicago Sun-Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Vreeland’s style, which uses elements of biography, art history, and romance fiction, draws in the reader with an air of seductive mystery. … Filled with vivid details and colors, her descriptions of rural, city, and domestic scenes provide the reader with a verbal picture of life in all its vivid detail." Mary Houlihan

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"Because she has based much of this fiction on her own research, anyone who hasn’t taken both Art History 101 and 102 may want to reach for a few books to fully appreciate Life Studies. … Her skills make these studies enlightening, and sometimes even inspiring." Jackie Loohauis

The Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"As if lining a gallery’s white walls, the 17 stories in Life Studies are exquisitely crafted, miniature illustrations of Susan Vreeland’s passionate belief in the redeeming power of art. … The interior lives of her 19th-century women are particularly poignant and authentic-feeling." Tricia Snell

Rocky Mountain News 4 of 5 Stars
"These stories do not attempt to uncover the brilliance of art but, rather, the humanity that lies just to the side. Vreeland’s stories remind us that even the world’s most renowned artists have had to endure such worldly trials as the death of a spouse, noisy children, chronic physical pain and temptation."
Jennie A. Camp

San Diego Union-Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"Vreeland is a San Diego writer, and two of these stories are spiced with the magic of Southern California. … Few story collections contain more than two breathtaking stories, but Vreeland’s Life Studies delivers a full, rich palette." Julie Brickman

Critical Summary

Vreeland, whose Girl in Hyacinth Blue (1999) fictionalized the story behind a Vermeer painting, again blends fact and fiction to bring artists and the lives of those affected by them to life. She approaches her subjects, from Renoir to a young girl coming to terms with death, with emotional sensitivity and great humanity, revealing how they, too, survive daily life. With a wonderful eye for detail and thorough research, she recreates the Impressionist and post-Impressionist worlds. A few minor quibbles: the first set of stories threatens to veer into romance novel melodrama, and the high moral value placed on art creates perhaps unrealistically optimistic messages. Vreeland hopes to show the redeeming power of art in this beautiful collection, and she does.