From a writer who worked at the Metropolitan Museum for more than 25 years, an enchanting novel that shows us the Met that the public doesn’t see.
Hidden behind the Picassos and Vermeers, the Temple of Dendur and the American Wing, exists another world: the hallways and offices, conservation studios, storerooms, and cafeteria that are home to the museum’s devoted and peculiar staff of 2,200 people - along with a few ghosts.
A surreal love letter to this private side of the Met, Metropolitan Stories unfolds in a series of amusing and poignant vignettes in which we discover larger-than-life characters, the downside of survival, and the powerful voices of the art itself. The result is a novel bursting with magic, humor, and energetic detail, but also a beautiful book about introspection, an ode to lives lived for art, ultimately building a powerful collage of human experience and the world of the imagination.
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Stories of enchanting, lyrical, Magical Realism
The cover says this book is a novel but it reads like a series of interconnected short stories, all set in the extraordinary Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. Some stories are told by “residents” of the museum...like a grand 18th century chair, an ancient marble statue of Adam, or a drawing. As the reader you hear their memories, their dreams, and their take on their current situation.
But there is so much more...ghosts, a night watchman that can “hear” paintings, a lost soul that finds a permanent home inside the museum, and a doorway that leads to an entirely different time and place than modern day NYC.
The author has a gift for description and though the galleries and objects she describes are entirely real, she weaves a web of magic around all of them. Almost no aspect or person of the museum is left out, everyone from the director, to the curators, to the janitors, and the heavily monied donors, are included, as are many of the rooms from the Grand Hall to the Staff Cafeteria. Some of the characters do show up in more than one story, but it still feels like a collection of short stories rather than a novel.
There is a conversation with a wholly naked woman from a photograph, office politics, grand egos, and nearly invisible people toiling behind the scenes for decades that finally get their story told. And all of their stories have a bit of whimsy or magic to them.
If you like art, history, short stories, magical realism, museums, or NYC, you will probably like this book. There is a brief interview with the author on NPR, as well as some photos of the pieces she writes about, all of which are worth a google.
There were a few tiny sections that moved a bit slow, but overall I found this book fanciful and enchanting. It is her first book, but hopefully not her last. The narrator did a fine job as well.