2019, 341 pages
“The Curiosities” is a novel divided into chapters that are told from the point of view of the individual characters living and working in an artist colony in Madison, Wisconsin. Nell Parker, who lives in Madison and has a PhD in art history, is the somewhat reluctant director of the colony, which was created at the behest of Betsy Barrett, the former resident of the mansion that houses the colony. After the recent loss of her preterm baby, Nell and her husband, Josh, an attorney, have been floundering while undertaking a round of infertility treatments. (The true cost of which Nell keeps to herself.) Nell took the job as a respite from the reoccurring thoughts of her tragedy, and because she simply needs the money. Chosen for her degree and not her managerial savvy, she is thrust into her role when the executor of Betsy’s will slaps the keys of a huge, old mansion on the edge of Madison into her hand and drives off.
Nell and the residents of the colony, (Including deceased benefactor Betsy Barrett) all have their stories revealed in their chapters. There is Paige, the offbeat recent art-school grad, Annie, an older artist of some past renown, and Odin, a young metal sculptor with his own tragic loss looming over his work. The first round of residents were chosen by Betsy before she died, and Nell’s job is essentially to keep them happily ensconced in the mansion while also tending to a myriad of other duties.
While Nell finds herself busily consumed with the activities at the newly minted “Mansion Hill Artists’ Colony,” her marriage continues its’ downward slide until fate, in the form of an arrest at the mansion, allows her to see her buttoned-up husband in a new light.
The story flows quite naturally around the characters in the book, and although I liked the arc of the novel, for some reason Betsy’s’ first chapter not being introduced until the fifth chapter threw me off. I liked that the background and history could be established with this character, however I would have preferred it happened earlier in the book, maybe as part of the Prologue. That is just my opinion, of course, and I quickly moved on from the thought as the story progressed.
The title caught my eye with this book. I think it could have derived from the descriptions of items cataloged by Nell that she found in mansion, but could easily apply to the characters, a curious mix of ages and personalities that blend to provide a satisfying and charming read. I’m proud to give this novel 3.5/4 stars.
Bookish and Proud