The Works Progress Administration of the 1930s and ’40s was a savior for American artists. Those meager checks alleviated financial concerns enough that the artists could pay rent and spend their off-hours drinking, cavorting and exploring their artistic passions.
For Alizée Benoit, that driving passion is abstract painting. And the opinionated Alizée—French by birth, all-American by spirit—isn’t one to keep her head down at work. As her interest in abstraction grows, Alizée persuades Eleanor Roosevelt to allow WPA artists room to break from realism.
In the present day, Alizée’s great-niece, Dani Abrams, works in an auction house. One day, several squares of an abstract painting arrive, tucked into envelopes that were taped to the back of paintings that may be works by Alizée’s friends. Dani is certain these squares are part of her mysterious aunt’s oeuvre, and she dives into research, in direct defiance of her boss’ wishes. The only member of a Jewish family to escape Europe, Alizée disappeared in 1940, and Dani can’t help but wonder if something nefarious occurred.
In The Muralist, novelist B.A. Shapiro deftly layers American art history, the facts of World War II and the fictitious stories of Alizée and Dani. As was the case with her previous book, the bestseller The Art Forger, Shapiro’s understanding of art is clear. Also like that 2012 tale, The Muralist is a compelling mystery. But even though The Art Forger was a smashing success, readers should be prepared for something different here: The Muralist elevates Shapiro to an even higher plane and is sure to be a crowning touch in an already celebrated career.