Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him [NOOK Book]

Overview

As The Devil Wears Prada demystified the world of high fashion, this funny and insightful debut novel dishes the crazy and captivating Manhattan art scene. When painter Jeffrey Finelli is run over by a cab, the art world clamors for the instantly in-demand work by the late “emerging artist”—especially an enormous painting called Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him.

Gallery receptionist and aspiring artist Mia McMurray fi nds herself ...
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Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him

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Overview

As The Devil Wears Prada demystified the world of high fashion, this funny and insightful debut novel dishes the crazy and captivating Manhattan art scene. When painter Jeffrey Finelli is run over by a cab, the art world clamors for the instantly in-demand work by the late “emerging artist”—especially an enormous painting called Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him.

Gallery receptionist and aspiring artist Mia McMurray fi nds herself at the center of the hype. She is an amused witness as a Birkin-toting collector, a well-muscled Irish artist, a real estate baron, and Lulu herself, the artist’s niece and muse, battle over the brand-new masterpiece. In the midst of the madness, Mia finds her own creative expression and artistic identity, not to mention love.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
Ganek sends up the Chelsea art scene in her knowing debut. If your taste runs toward the perceptive, with revelatory observations about contemporary culture, then a masterpiece awaits you in her first novel.

The delightful Mia McMurray is a receptionist at a New York art gallery. Stuck in her job, uninspired in her love life, and harboring a longing to kick-start her own career as a painter, Mia is treading water. Things change, however, when an unknown artist is killed on the opening night of his show. Unsurprisingly, there's a sudden market shift, and a thunderous demand arises for the dead man's work -- with Mia's gallery in the eye of the storm.

Ganek's thorough dissection of the art world is completely credible -- she is, in fact, a collector herself. Her tale of a small, cannibalistic community is reminiscent of others (The Devil Wears Prada) yet wholly her own. To her credit, Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him is much more than a social satire. It's also the story of a struggling young woman who learns to confront herself and move on with her life. In this way, Lulu isn't the only one to meet God and doubt him; Mia meets God, and doubts him, too. (Fall 2007 Selection)
Vanity Fair
Danielle Ganek captures the absurdity of the New York art scene with wide and witty brushstrokes.
New York Times
[A] glossy, amusing story that still finds time to wonder... how, why and whether the art world differentiates between trash and treasure.
Janet Maslin
Its author has a savvy, satirical eye, a terrific title and an insider's knowledge of the New York art gallery world.
CBS Sunday Morning
Janet Maslin
The various maneuvers that give each character just desserts make this a glossy, amusing story that still finds time to wonder, in all seriousness, how, why and whether the art world differentiates between trash and treasure.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

In this enjoyably tart art world sendup, winsome, aperçu-spouting Mia McMurray (think Party Girl–era Parker Posey) is a gallerista—one of the invariably decorative young women who act as a gallery's de facto concierge, and "who is always, always watching," as Mia herself puts it. A mysterious portrait by the recently late Jeffrey Finelli (killed by an errant cab in front of Mia's Simon Pryce gallery) gives the novel its winningly clumsy title and sets up its main conflict, between grasping art collectors and representatives of Finelli's estate. Former Mademoiselleand Woman's Dayeditor Ganek, herself a significant art collector, offers sharply drawn characters and convincingly savvy details. That the book's most important female collector is presented as a loudmouthed and overdressed refugee from Absolutely Fabulousgives a sense of its waspish humor. But Ganek stops short of crude caricature, and Ganek's portraits of the variously sneaky, ridiculous and pretentious art world denizens are tinged with affection and depth. The tone is sophisticated chick lit, and there's a sweet love story threaded in, but what most clearly animates this debut, and sets it apart, is a real sense that art matters. (June)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Ganek's debut novel centers on Mia McMurray, a receptionist in a New York art gallery. Mia's cranky Brit boss, Simon, has discovered artist Jeffrey Finelli, who attends the opening of his first show only to be killed in a traffic accident later that night. His death strongly affects Mia, who secretly dreams of becoming a painter; Simon, who wants a bigger role in the art world; and Finelli's niece, who never met the artist but was the subject of his masterpiece, Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him. Mia detachedly observes the glamorous and gossipy world of art collecting, often purposefully distancing herself to avoid ridicule of her aspirations. Her lack of involvement occasionally slows the book's pace, but this is a minor quibble, as she is a generally thoughtful observer. She is also a kind, believable, and enjoyable character as she befriends Lulu, discovers her creative talents and limitations, and attempts to avoid romantic involvement with the often shallow men from the art world. The setting and style may appeal to readers of Alison Pace. Recommended.
—Lisa Davis-Craig

Kirkus Reviews
Chick lit seeks out culture in Ganek's debut, an art-world romance. With more than 300 galleries huddled in Chelsea alone, the New York contemporary art scene is bound to get incestuous. So finds Mia McMurray, a budding "gallerina," or gallery receptionist (they are known, for the most part, for their haughty attitude, good looks and expensive clothes), at the mediocre Simon Pryce Gallery. But Mia fancies herself different from the others-particularly the loathsome Alexis Belkin-and tells herself that she is working at the gallery only to support her own artistic aspirations. Things heat up at the gallery when Simon holds a show for the talented but unknown Jeffrey Finelli, who is hit by a taxi on the night of his art opening. Suddenly, demand for the paintings is high, particularly the masterpiece Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him. The painting is desired by a well-known collector, the classless wife of a nouveau riche businessman and other players, but the painting's muse, Finelli's estranged niece, Lulu, comes forward and claims that the piece was promised to her. Lulu and Mia forge an unlikely friendship, and, as Mia is thrust head-on into the world she has long admired largely from the sidelines, her romantic life takes an unexpected turn. After insisting that she wouldn't date Zach Roberts (a young, smart, handsome art dealer) because he makes his money in the art world, Mia finally, predictably, succumbs to his charms. Meanwhile, Lulu quits her Wall Street job to become a painter and falls in love with a famous young artist, and Mia quits the gallery and becomes a writer. The Finelli changes hands again, selling at auction for a remarkable sum. The contemporary art scene is a fun,juicy setting, but Mia is, if not a typical Gallerina, certainly a typical chick-lit heroine: insipid and entirely predictable. Same story, different scene.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781440633201
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/29/2008
  • Sold by: Penguin Group
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 1,082,423
  • File size: 258 KB

Meet the Author

Danielle Ganek has been an editor at Mademoiselle and Woman's Day magazines. She is a collector of contemporary art and photography. This is her first book.
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Read an Excerpt

One

Fall Postwar and Contemporary Sale
Monday, 7:00 pm

November

The auction starts-Ladies and Gentlemen, we begin this evening's sale of postwar and contemporary art with lot number 1, blah, blah, blah-and I hold myself still. It's a game I like to play at sales. I entertain myself with the implausible fear that if I so much as scratch my ear or push my glasses up on my nose, the auctioneer will perceive this as a bid and I will suddenly own a piece of art I can't possibly afford. That this is impossible only adds to the fun. I don't even have a paddle. I stand at the back, squeezed in with the press and other observers. I take an elbow in the rib from a fat guy in a droopy overcoat scribbling names and paddle numbers in his notebook, but I hold my ground. I've chosen my spot in the sale room carefully. I figured I'd be invisible back here, in the standing section with the reporters and the pretend collectors and other folks not too proud to watch an entire auction on their feet.There is another whole room of people watching on a screen upstairs in an annex-talk about Siberia! But they miss seeing the bidders in action. From where I stand, I can see everything. And I hope no one can see me. Especially not Simon. Except there he is, coming down the center aisle, clutching his ticket to his chest as though someone might snatch it away and he'd be banished to the back to stand.Simon is late. The first piece, a smallish Richard Prince cowboy, always an easy sell, selected to set the mood-Buy! Buy!-has gone far above the asking price. There is just the slightest break in the tension in the crowded room. The bubble will not burst tonight.I try to tuck myself in behind the fat man, so Simon can't see me. I don't think he'd bother looking in my direction; no one of interest to him would be standing. Or so I think. I'm wrong, as I often am when it comes to my former boss. He does look in my direction. And he sees me. He stops in the aisle and our eyes meet. He runs his hand through his hair. Surely this will be the extent of our exchange. This is already too much intimacy for Simon.He continues down the aisle toward me. This is the most crowded sale room I've ever seen, the seats jammed up against each other like coach class on Continental. Simon has to step over legs in the aisle to get to me."Mia McMurray. What in bloody hell are you doing here?"It's not like Simon to be so loud. The fat reporter immediately starts shushing. Heads turn in our direction as the auctioneer accepts bids on lot number 2."How'd you even get a ticket?" His voice gets louder. More heads turn. The reporter waves a hand at Simon to get him out of the way. This doesn't work. Simon glares at each one of us in turn. He doesn't seem to know what else to say to me. I give him my friendliest smile. I haven't seen him since June. I wonder if he missed me a little."Take your seat," the fat guy growls. He makes a gesture toward the ticket Simon is still holding at his chest.This works. Simon gives me one last withering look before he turns to find his spot in one of the rows of chairs. I step back. The fat guy edges over into the space I just released, and I let him. "Thank you," I tell my new friend as he jostles into position. He doesn't respond.
Jeffrey Finelli's painting of Lulu is hanging in the sale room. It's on the right wall, above the bank of phones manned by a growing cadre of extraordinarily attractive salespeople employed by the auction house. He is flanked, not incongruously, by Ed Ruscha and Willem de Kooning, two of my favorites. From the far wall a Basquiat and a Hirst face the Finelli. There, the painting glows, imbued with the power of context. The official title of the piece is Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him. Wordy, isn't it? Talk about awkward. Most people leave off the part about the doubting and call it Lulu and God. Or "the one with the girl and the paintbrush." Or just, "the big one." It certainly is big. A swirling riot of orange, pink, and yellow on a nine-by-twelve-foot unframed canvas. In the lower right corner is his signature, Finelli. A scrawl with an exaggerated F and a long tail on the I at the end.It's an exquisitely composed portrait of a young girl holding a small canvas of her own in one perfectly detailed hand, a dripping paintbrush in the other. The use of light is remarkable, a clear golden light that evokes Florence. The scale gives the piece intensity, and the swirling colors give it Finelli's own unique style. But it's the look on the girl's face, wise and so clearly full of doubt that the explanatory title is unnecessary, that makes it difficult for the viewer to look away.The Lulu in the painting has circular gray eyes. When they fix on yours, they lock in. You move before her and her eyes move with you, like Mona Lisa's eyes, only much bigger. She's riveting. From her spot above the audience gathered for tonight's sale, the nine-by-twelve-foot Lulu gazes down at the art world with a wry smile, as though amused by the spectacle before her. It is quite a spectacle.There are three types of people crammed into the tightly packed rows of seats. First, of course, are the collectors. The big players peer down from their boxes above the action, like at the ballet. The others occupy seats as good or as bad as their recent buying history. There are passionate collectors, fueled by lust, and others, only mildly horny, looking to enjoy themselves without commitment. Within this category are a crop of new-moneyed thirty- and forty-year-olds with an air of being on a Saturday shopping spree.Then there are the dealers, like Simon. They monitor the market carefully at auction, if they're good, sniffing the wind. There are young ones, scrappily negotiating arrangements that are only slightly unethical, and older ones, guarding their turf, knowing that in the contemporary world, new is always desirable. There are secondary market dealers. They're the ones who sell the works that come up for resale, unlike the gallerists who represent artists and sell art on what's called the primary market. That's the stuff you can buy, if you're lucky, when you walk into a gallery.There are also lots and lots of art advisers, spending other people's money with a nice cut for themselves, sometimes a kickback from certain dealers. All of them trying to grab a piece of the pie, any way they can. Even the most jaded of them enjoy the spectacle.I suppose I fall into the third category. The gawkers. We're here to watch. It is a thrill, seeing other people spend what feels like obscene and frivolous-or simply impossible-amounts of money on something as tenuously valuable as a piece of art. It's especially exciting when the numbers go crazy, way above the estimates in the catalog. This has been happening a lot. Apparently we're in the middle of a bubble.In the gawker group are curators and art historians, elegant couples in smart suits who are cultured and speak many languages, ladies in long flowered coats they've brought back from Bali or large plastic earrings that are funky and awful, men in leather jackets they're too old or too bald to be wearing, the pretend collectors, and pretty young things in BCBG cocktail dresses and blown-out hair more interested in snagging a husband than a good deal on a Matthew Barney video piece.
"Fair warning," the auctioneer states in British English, slightly accented with Swiss German. There are a lot of wonderful accents in the international art world. The auctioneer's is a cocktail of European influences, but he is fully in control of his English. He wears a crisp Italian tuxedo and has noticeable sideburns and a very full head of hair. He's known for a penetrating stare that is famously effective at wrangling one or two more bids out of buyers. He stands at his little podium with supreme confidence, a preacher at his pulpit, commanding the room. Some of us have a small crush on him.Above his head is an electronic board that posts the bids in different currencies. It's fun to watch the prices appear in yen and euro and British sterling. Lot number 7 has sold. A hundred thousand above the high estimate. There's a strain in the air you can almost taste, sweet and tart, a combination of anxiety and self-congratulatory glee at simply being here. The sale is going well, but I'm anxious for it to move more quickly. I'm interested in Jeffrey Finelli's painting of Lulu. Lot number 22."New bidder," cries the auctioneer, pointing toward the phalanx of well-dressed auction staff working the phones. His moves at the podium are graceful versions of traffic-cop gesticulations as he locates where the money is coming from on any given bid. "On the telephone."The seller of the Finelli is a collector named Martin Better, although this is supposed to be a secret. Like many secrets, it's ill kept. Everyone who's anyone knows Martin Better is the seller. I see him now, in the eighth row, chewing gum with gusto, his wife, Lorette, at his side. Her precise blond bob catches the light as she stifles a yawn. I'm surprised to see her here-she's never been to auction before-but she does have a vested interest in tonight's sale. You can buy a lot of jewelry for what they might make on the Finelli, even if it doesn't go above the low estimate.In the last four years Martin Better has accumulated art the way some people throw groceries into a cart, dropping five, ten, even twenty or thirty million on a piece with the nonchalant air of a housewife grabbing a box of Honey Nut Cheerios at the Stop & Shop.Martin Better is a real estate developer, although he is often erroneously referred to as a hedge fund manager because it's popular sport to disparage all new collectors as hedge fund speculators, implying that the only reason they're buying art is to-gasp-make money. Marty Better is a notorious risk-taker-although the phrase, I believe, is "He's got balls the size of coconuts." Or something that sounds equally uncomfortable. He made a huge fortune for himself in the real estate market. Then he began buying art. Once he started, he couldn't stop.Ironically, Dr. Kopp, one of the more vociferous of the older collectors denigrating the newer buyers in general, hedge funders, Russians-and Martin Better in particular-for what he perceives to be a lack of sensitivity to price, is seated right next to Martin and Lorette. Maybe someone at the auction house was having a little fun. Poor Dr. Kopp. He's a world-renowned professor. And he can't afford the art on his walls.
We're on lot 14 when the energy in the room shifts. It's time for the celebrity socialite to make her entrance. Jenna Bain is the wife of prominent collector Robert Bain. Yes, you can read "prominent" as "wealthy." You're starting to speak the language.Jenna Bain is spectacular. The dress clings in all the right places. The shiny blond hair bounces just so. She waves and kisses, kisses and waves, making an entrance down the center aisle although her seat next to her husband is more easily accessible from the side of the room. Her husband is already seated, and he sits up a little straighter now, knowing he's the envy of every man at the sale. Everyone sits up a little straighter, the shot of glamour reinforcing the feeling that here, now, is the place to be."I can sell it at four million dollars," intones the auctioneer. Then just one last query in the direction of the underbidder on lot 14. "Any more?"And then, it's too funny. Almost immediately following Jenna Bain comes Connie Kantor. One of the new collectors-no, not hedge fund money, her husband made his cash inventing some kind of toilet-paper dispenser-Connie in five-inch heels is a moving sight gag as she makes her way down the center aisle, although her seat too would be more easily reached from the side closest to the door.She waves and kisses, kisses and waves, acknowledging anyone she happens to know. My shoulders hunch reflexively, although I know she won't even glance in the direction of the standing section. Her eyes dart this way and that with the acquisitive gleam of a collector in heat.Hers is a lumpy body no amount of money can dress up, although she's trying, in what appears to be a mink sweatshirt with a hood. She has lank hair even the man known as the magician with the blow-dryer can't volumize and little eyes made smaller with too much makeup. She wears diamonds by the yard roped several times around her neck and a much larger one dangling from her ring finger. Off her arm swings an enormous Hermes Birkin bag in bright blue crocodile. That's one of those bags that cost ten grand at least, if you can get your name on the top of the wait list. The croc is more. This one is so big it looks fake, but Connie doesn't have the confidence to carry a fake.Her husband Andrew, a troll-like creature slumped in a seat near the front of the room, does not turn around. He's on the crack, scrolling messages on the CrackBerry, his shoulders bobbing up and down. I've never seen him without that BlackBerry; he always looks very busy, but he could also just be playing BrickBreaker. Either way, he doesn't look up to see his wife come down the aisle. His are the only eyes in the room not on Connie right now. Even the auctioneer pauses slightly to take in the visual of her entrance.The contrast between Connie and Jenna Bain is comical. Just as Connie gets to her row, blowing a kiss at Andrew, she trips on her heel. She goes all the way down to the floor, and from the blue bag spews makeup and cell phone and two tampons all over the aisle. It's all I can do not to guffaw. There are others in the room less restrained. The fat guy next to me snorts a loud laugh."Yard sale," he says, slapping his knee.The suave auctioneer can hardly keep the focus of the crowd. He manages to do so with a quick sale of lot 15. "All done, then, at two hundred thousand dollars."The sale is moving swiftly. Artists' records are being made. So far, nothing has been bought in. Soon, we're at lot 21. This is a piece for which there was a lot of presale hype. When it sells, anticlimactically, for just over the low estimate, a few people get up to leave.And then, the Finelli. The estimate is $950,000 to $1,150,000. Will it shock you to know Simon originally planned to price the painting at $75,000 at the opening in March of this same year, only nine months earlier? It should. I've never been good at math, but that's an increase of what? A lot.The seller-yes, right, Martin Better-should make a tidy profit on a painting for which he paid $675,000. Six hundred seventy-five thousand dollars is where the price had gone for this piece by June, only four months after the opening. Sure, there's been plenty of vicious gossip and opinionated judgment about Marty selling the Finelli so soon after he bought it at the Basel art fair. And not just quietly offering it around through a secondary dealer, or giving it back to Simon to sell for him, but putting it up for auction. Auction is so public, so flashy, so, well, bold. Coconuts, hmm."Lulu meets God and doubts him," the auctioneer intones. He glances at the ceiling, knowing as he does how a piece of art that's generally been decreed to be the best of the artist's output can produce strange and exhilarating results at such sales. These kinds of results, wild excesses, are what keeps him in business, and what keeps all of us coming back, even suffering the humiliation of the standing section if necessary. Perhaps his glance at the ceiling is a little prayer. The bidding starts strong, with multiple bids from around the room. The brisk action sparks the curiosity of some of the early leavers, who linger at the door to watch. There are phone bidders and lots of raised paddles, and the numbers go up steadily."Seven hundred thousand. Seven hundred and fifty. Eight hundred." The auctioneer hardly gets a chance to breathe between bids. The price is quickly at nine hundred and fifty, the low estimate. The early buyers fall out as the price gets over a million. At a million four it settles down to three bidders.One of them is a new collector I overheard at the preview loudly questioning the condition of the piece, probably because he had no idea what else to say. The condition? It was practically still wet. The second bidder is, of course, Connie Kantor. She's recovered from her fall, relaced those mischievous sandals, and is waving her paddle as high as she can reach, as though the auctioneer might not spot it. Not for Connie the subtle nod or a discreet removal of glasses.The third of these bidders is in the standing section, behind me. This person occupies an unusual blind area in the oddly shaped sale room, to the side of a pillar, blocked to the seated crowd. It's a spot visible to the auctioneer and the alluring salespeople lined up along the telephones and only a few people in the standing section. To most of the room this bidder is nothing but a paddle. A mystery bidder. The seated crowd loves a mystery bidder.The bidding goes up steadily, paced evenly, with the three paddles alternating. The two million mark gets hit, much to the surprise and excitement of every person in the room. The currency board flips out the numbers: 1,565,195,000 euro. That's 223,359,084 Japanese yen. Even Lorette Better looks interested.Then three million. A thrill takes over the quiet sale room. Talk about excess. Remember, this is Jeffrey Finelli, not Andy Warhol!At three million two even the elegant auctioneer is having trouble restraining himself. "Three million three, three million four, three million five, three million six." He hardly pauses between the numbers, glee infusing his pronunciation of the words. His narrow hips swivel as he gestures first toward the back right corner of the room, then to the front left, then to the far right where Connie sits.At three million seven hundred thousand the collector who was concerned about the condition of the painting drops out. He looks bewildered, as though he's just woken up from a trance.It's down to Connie and the bidder in the back. The whole room seems to be playing my game, people holding themselves rigidly still, not even breathing, fearing the slightest misinterpretation of a tilted head or a loud sigh.The mystery bidder seems to have the piece at four million dollars."Fair warning." The auctioneer practically dances at his podium."Selling now at four million dollars."There's not a sound in the room. Something in Connie's deer-in-the-headlights look causes the auctioneer to sense he might have another bid. He fixes his seductive gaze on her, now the underbidder. "Will you give me four million one?" he asks, leaning way over the podium in Connie's direction.Connie holds tight to the paddle in her lap. The other hand she has slipped under her thigh, as though to keep it from leaping up of its own accord and bidding without her. Her lips will be clenched with such determination they will have practically disappeared, only a smudge of lipgloss remaining to indicate that there once was a mouth in that region of her face."One more, madam?" the auctioneer queries.The room is silent. Connie's husband refuses to catch her eye."Take your time," the auctioneer says, sounding gracious, although we all know what he really means.Connie looks down at her paddle, then lifts her head and nods firmly at the auctioneer."Four million one hundred thousand dollars," he says with as much excitement as his Swiss manners will allow. "It's with you, madam, four million one against you at the very back of the room."There's a slight pause."Do I have four million two?"And the back-of-the-room bidder is right back in for four million two, so quickly, with a swift lifting of the paddle above heads, and then just as swiftly lowering it so it is almost missed by everyone except the auctioneer.Connie turns her head once, quickly, toward the standing section. I slide behind my heavy friend, but Connie doesn't see me."Do I have four million three?" the auctioneer asks, ever so politely, of Connie. Connie looks like she could scream in frustration. But she clamps her lips together even more tightly and lifts her paddle in weary resignation."Four million three hundred thousand dollars," the auctioneer cries."Thank you, madam."I crane my neck, as we all do, to catch a glimpse of the mysterious bidder. It's considered extremely bad form to stand up, but one woman wearing a yellow-and-black-striped dress does a sort of crouch in her seat to try for a better view. None of them, not even crouching tiger lady, can see what the eagle-eyed auctioneer can spot from his perch above the action. The figure with the paddle at the back of the room has gone, probably slipped out the side door."Four million three," the auctioneer states, now matter-of-fact, as he knows he has to wrap things up quickly."Fair warning," he says, before Connie can change her mind. "Selling now at four million three hundred thousand dollars."Whack goes the little smacker on the podium. There is enthusiastic clapping. Apparently this occurs only in America. According to Simon, no one in London would clap at an art sale. After all, he was fond of saying, after a gin and tonic or several, it's a sale, not a theater show.I don't know about you, but I disagree with him. I suppose I disagree with just about everything that's ever come out of Simon's mouth. Except one thing he said at Jeffrey Finelli's opening back in March. "Art is the new cocaine."
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Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION
New York City is the white hot center of an art bubble and the prices just keeping going up and up and up—quite literally—at the auction that opens Danielle Ganek’s novel Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him. Narrator Mia McMurray watches breathlessly with the rest of the gawkers as the price of a single painting—Jeffrey Finelli’s Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him—climbs from $700,000 to $4.3 million in a matter of minutes. As the auction closes, Mia casts back to the evening nine months earlier when the debut of a promising emerging (read: unknown) artist turned into an art-world maelstrom that entangled her with New York’s most powerful gallery owner, a sexy superstar of installation art, the painter’s beautiful muse, and two über-wealthy collectors.

Before the Finelli opening, Mia’s life could not have been less eventful. Employed at the Simon Pryce Gallery in New York’s Chelsea district for more than five years, Mia has been “single-handedly trying to overturn the stereotype of the nasty gallery girl.” She also harbors a secret as deep as it is frustrating: She too longs to be a painter. But that night, the artist himself sweeps into the gallery bearing a stinky Italian cheese and the canvas that will turn the art world—and Mia’s life—upside down.

Despite being a figurative painting—and thus passé by current market tastes—Lulu has a huge impact. The celebrated installation artist Dane O’Neill is mesmerized by the portrait of Lulu, a wise young girl holding a dripping canvas, and the gallery audience is agog, but tragedy lurks outside. Ducking out for a smoke, Finelli is run over by a taxi, and his death leaves unanswered questions about the ownership of the painting that everyone suddenly just has to have. Immediately after the accident, the grown-up Lulu appears. Stunning and enigmatic, Lulu Finelli has never met her uncle, but it seems he promised her the painting, which Simon claims has already been sold to him. Two billionaire collectors, Connie Cantor and Martin Better, want to buy Lulu, but Simon foolishly sells the painting to a fickle Hollywood celebrity, who promptly flips it to Pierre LaReine, Simon’s nemesis and the owner of New York’s most influential gallery.

Lulu may not get the painting, but she does wind up catching the art bug, and Mia—who has made fast friends with her over Chinese takeout and backgammon—watches awestruck as the self-proclaimed Wall Street bean-counter metamorphoses into a free-spirited bohemian and an emerging artist in her own right. Under Dane’s loving tutelage, the transformed Lulu might well have instilled jealousy in Mia. But she has her own romantic entanglement—with handsome art adviser Zach Roberts—to keep her occupied, and soon enough Mia discovers that her true creative calling doesn’t involve oils or canvas. The tale she relates is a lively and charming study of human foibles, the creative impulse, and a hilarious and eye-opening look at the contemporary art world.

A CONVERSATION WITH DANIELLE GANEK
Q. In the novel, Simon says that “art is the new cocaine,” and Mia is sent to “give Martin Better some sex” when he is interested in purchasing Lulu. Are these actual art world colloquialisms? How accurate are they?

A. Isn’t cocaine used as a metaphor often enough to be a cliché? Simon, not the most original thinker on the planet, is quoting someone when he says “art is the new cocaine.” And that person was rewording Marcel Duchamp who famously called art a habit-forming drug. So, colloquialisms? No. Although I suppose the language of addiction and lust feels colloquial when applied to collecting. These two quotes are specific to Simon. Especially his comment about sex. That’s very Simon. I’ve never heard a dealer talk like that (although that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t in the privacy of the back room).

Q. How much of Mia is based on you? Did you aspire to paint before you discovered writing?

A. I think there’s a universality to Mia’s creative aspirations that makes her not just like me but like a lot of artistically inclined people. There’s that awful frustration of one’s skills not matching one’s ambitions that we’ve all felt. I was always afflicted with this intense desire to write rather than paint or photograph (although I have done both, badly). At times, it has felt like that, an affliction. There’s a place in the book where Mia expresses her fascination with people with regular money-making jobs who aren’t tortured by their creative ambition. That’s me. And the part where she says guacamole is practically her religion. Me too.

Q. You’re an avid art collector yourself, yet some of the funniest send-ups in the novel are of collectors. Is the world of art collecting as competitive and absurd as you depict?

A.Yes and no. The fun of writing fiction is making stuff up. But I think there are a lot of competitive and absurd—and competitively absurd—people in all realms of life. And it is human nature to want what you can’t have. When a competitive and absurd art collector wants a piece and is told it’s not available, that person may behave in a competitive, and yes, absurd, way. That’s what makes art auctions so fascinating to watch.

Q. How do you feel about figurative painting? Do you have any in your collection?

A. I’m an easy audience. I suppose this is another way I’m like Mia; I’m a big fan. And I like all different kinds of art. I’m just utterly in awe of artistic talent, and the talent to create a really strong portrait of a living person and have that person come to life on a canvas is one that I think is unique.

Q. Who are some of your favorite artists, and is the painting Lulu inspired by the work of someone specific?

A. I love Richard Prince, Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Mike Kelley, Cindy Sherman, John Currin, Lucian Freud . . . photographers Diane Arbus and Robert Frank. But when it came to the Lulu painting, I tried to conjure an image that would somehow represent the essence of the power and intensity we feel when observing any great piece but didn’t feel like any actual known work. I didn’t want it to be too specific, like this is Lucian Freud meets John Currin or something like that—I really wanted it to exist only in my mind and then on the page.

Q. Have you been to the Venice Biennale and Art Basel? If so, how accurate are your depictions of them in the book?

A. I’ve been to both the Venice Biennale and Art Basel a few times. (Like Mia, I love the sausage you get at the Basel convention center and the white asparagus that is in season at time of the fair!) I suppose my depictions are fairly accurate, although I’m not the kind of fiction writer who walks around taking journalistic notes and then transcribing them. I’m sure there are people out there who will feel compelled to let me know what I got wrong, that the entrance to the Basel Art Fair doesn’t face a gallery booth wall as described or something like that. I didn’t say much about Venice because when Mia goes there, she is so fixated on meeting up with Zach that she isn’t her normal observant self.

Q. Who are some of your favorite writers, and does this book have any direct literary influences?

A. As with art, I’m a big fan. I’m an easy audience and I read constantly. I read all kinds of things. I’m obsessed with F. Scott Fitzgerald. I love Lorrie Moore, Ann Patchett, Jane Austen, and Edith Wharton. My first favorite book was I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith. The charismatic narrator captured me at a really young age, when I first aspired to write. It’s still one of my favorite books, and I think I will always retain that initial desire to create a really likable narrator with a great sense of humor. I love reading—and writing—first-person narrators. I don’t enjoy writing in the third person nearly as much.

Q. You’ve already received some rave reviews from people in the art world, including Richard Prince and Larry Gagosian. Were you nervous about how people in that milieu would receive the novel?

A. Frankly, I was nervous about how people in any milieu would receive the novel! But, yes, I was nervous about friends in the art world; I hoped they would understand my sense of humor. So far, no one in the art world who has read a galley has found fault with anything; they all claim to have loved it. (Although, really, what are they going to say to my face?) And no dealers have complained that Simon or the “small, uncircumsized” Pierre was based on them.

Q. What are you working on now?

A. A novel in which the narrator is a thirty-seven-year-old New York City decorator who has carried a torch for her first boyfriend for twenty years. She remeets him when they’re both hired (he’s an architect) to work on redesigning an awful McMansion, and although she has renounced the need for love, she believes it’s destiny. Until she discovers she hates him. I think she’s an older, funnier version of Mia with a unique perspective on the conspicuously consuming world in which her creative aspirations have landed her.

Q. Now that you’re a published novelist, how would you compare the world of art to the world of book publishing?

A. Well, unlike people buying art, people who buy books to read don’t have to compete with one another to get what they want, unless it’s within the rarefied world of book collecting and first editions. You don’t see anyone racing through Barnes & Noble when the doors open to make sure they get their fix! So there’s not that competition. (Although it’s fun to imagine that behind the doors at the publishing houses there are the same competitive and absurd behaviors of acquiring editors to observe as there are in the art world!) The team of women—and, in my case, they are all women and I adore them—who have been involved in my book are all very nice and extremely civilized. I can’t see any of them screaming into a phone, and you do see that in the art world—people getting very worked up!

In the art world everyone is competing for very little good product: Dealers compete for artists and artists’ works (an artist could be represented by three different dealers in three different cities and only produce ten works a year) and clients; collectors compete with one another for works; museums have to compete with everyone, and they have smaller budgets. So there’s more intensity, I guess: definitely more screaming into phones.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • What do you think about Jeffrey Finelli’s promise to Lulu that she could have the painting? Do you think he meant for her to own the actual painting? To whom do you think the painting rightfully belongs and why?
     
  • Discuss the topic of Simon’s panel talk, “the role of the muse in contemporary art,” in relationship to Lulu. What is her role as Finelli’s muse?
     
  • Why do you think Lulu slept with Pierre LaReine? Was she using him as much as he seemed to be using her? Who do you think had the advantage and why?
     
  • Consider Zach’s assertion that “collectors only borrow works of art. They can never really own them” (p. 193). Do you feel that a work of art is above personal ownership? Why or why not?
     
  • Discuss Connie Cantor and Martin Better’s respective passions for art collecting. Is one more valid than the other? What is the role of the art collector in today’s world? What do you think would happen to art if there were no market for it?
     
  • Mia stumbles across her passion for writing almost by chance. Do you think she ever would have discovered her true creative medium if it hadn’t been for Lulu?
     
  • Simon sells Lulu to the unnamed Hollywood celebrity for $275,000. Four months later, Martin Better purchases the painting for $675,000. Five months after that, it sells at auction for $4.3 million. Is this exponential increase in value legitimate? Why or why not?
     
  • LaReine is one of the world’s preeminent gallery owners, yet he mistakes Lulu’s unfinished self-portrait for an early Jeffrey Finelli. Do you believe that artistic talent and sensibilities can be inherited?
     
  • Simon is an enigma to Mia—from his nationality to his sexuality to his spirituality. He is often quite bossy and brusque to her, yet she stays with him for more than five years. What role does he play in Mia’s life?
     
  • After Lulu quits her Wall Street job, she tells Mia, “I was miscast in my old life . . . It didn’t fit me, the job, the apartment, the fear. Not to get too evangelical about it, but everyone should know what this feels like, to live the life you really want to be living. To be the person you believe yourself to be” (p. 191). It’s a sentiment that just about everyone can relate to at some point. Discuss an instance in your own life when you felt this way.
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Sort by: Showing all of 12 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 27, 2008

    Lulu Meets God

    When I was meandering about Barnes and Noble one day, something caught my eye. Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him. That's a funny title, I thought. Cautiously, I picked it up and read the blurbs on the cover. I thought, hmmm, ok, I'll buy it. In all honesty, I was not prepared for such a treat in a book! I really could sink my teeth into it, almost as if it were the juicy burger that Zach buys for Mia! Buy it, read it, and love it. It will have you wondering, really, why do American women have such large bums?

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 2, 2011

    Great read

    I really enjoyed this book, knowing very little about the art world. I felt right at home. The characters were bright and funny and winning. I hope everyone who reads this book will enjoy it as much as I did.

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  • Posted August 7, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Witty and Relatively Original

    I liked this book quite at lot. Though it will never make my top 5, nor even my top 10 list of favorite books, I was drawn in by the unique cadence and candor of the main character - the narrator, Mia. She's young, but old enough to realize her dreams may not come true, and old enough to have a hilarious take on her boss' accent, and realize that fancy, sexily-accented European men may not beat the boy next door. Her fun voice, paired with an interesting fight over a dead man's master painting make for a light, funny and insightful read. Don't look here if you're seeking philosophical depth, but if you're in the mood to have fun with a book, I can't recommend anything better.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    In many ways this chick lit tale is a coming of age story

    In Manhattan¿s Chelsea section Mia McMurray works as a gallery receptionist assisting patrons at Simon Pryce Art Gallery by looking snooty and pretty. However, Mia sees the job as temporary as she dislikes her peers whose self-importance seems ridiculous to her as all they do is act like candy to customers Mia plans to cross the barrier and have her work hanging at a gallery albeit a nice one rather than the dump she works in.-------------- When talented artist Jeffrey Finelli is killed by a taxi on his opening night gala, Mia watches the entire accident in slow mo. She also observes the fascinating holy war over his paintings as a battle royal between collectors and his estate explodes. His death leads to a feeding frenzy as everyone wants to own an original Finelli especially his masterpiece ¿Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him¿. However, the painting's model, Finelli's niece, Lulu claims ownership.----------------- - Lulu and Mia become friends encouraging each other. The former quits Wall St to paint and takes a chance on love with an artist while the latter begins to date art dealer Zach Roberts while quitting her candy girl role to become a writer.---------- In many ways this chick lit tale is a coming of age story as Mia finds her groove when she stops watching and begins doing. The story line is amusing as Finelli stars in the art of death with his posthumous season being like uneaten asparagus quickly over though his masterpiece keeps reselling. This is a fun look at the art world as Lulu and Mia take no prisoners.-------- Harriet Klausner

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 17, 2007

    this one has 'the goods'

    A big part of what drives the book forward are the wonderful characters. Obviously Danielle Ganek knows who she is writing about. These characters are practically jumping off the page. Not only does she know her subject, but she can also reach in and pull the laughter from it. Humor as well as heartache fill the pages of this wonderful first novel .......................... Like a painting, 'Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him' will speak to some part of you. The desire to be something more, to realize your dream ¿ those are things that each of us can relate to. This might not be classic literature but it is a really good time.

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  • Posted February 2, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    AN INSIDER'S ART SCENE

    Meet Mia McMurray, part Bridget Jones, part Carrie Bradshaw, and all wrapped up in New York's Art contemporary art scene. She's the receptionist for art dealer Simon Pryce who has a new gallery in Chelsea. She sits 'at a concrete desk just inside the front door, behind a stainless steel slab that serves as a counter' Mia is only one of many young women whose job is to protect the entrance to a hallowed art hung hall. These girls are known as 'gallerinas.' As described by the author they are entitled, obnoxious, pretty girls who wear designer duds and know what's important to know in their insular world. Mia is none of the above as she doesn't consider herself attractive, smiles often, and doesn't even own one simple black Prada cocktail dress. Her boss Simon affects a British accent, wears Brioni suits, and drinks tea. His status as a dealer of note hinges on one Jeffrey Finelli who is coming from his home in Florence. Finelli lives and works above a salumeria, and is returning to the States after 20 years for his first gallery show. Simon is counting heavily on this event as he yearns, he aches to be considered one of the top dealers. There are but seven paintings in the show, one of which is 'Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him.' This is a large portrait of a young girl with round gray eyes, eyes that compel the 'viewer's eyes to stay glued to hers.' There, in a nutshell, is the springboard for this hugely entertaining first novel by Danielle Ganek whose husband is a hedge fund manager and a Guggenheim trustee. Her writing room is in the couple's Park Avenue duplex, which also houses their art collection. She has firsthand knowledge of her fictionalized territory, and she mines it well to give readers a peek at the high stakes New York art world peopled with outre minions, dealers, and those who can often drop several million with a nod of the head or in the case of the comical, driven Connie Kantor the frantic waving of an suction paddle. Simon has priced 'Lulu,' Jeffrey's masterpiece, at $75,000 but when the artist is killed by an errant cab on the night of his opening, prices for his work are suddenly stratospheric. Enter Lulu, the subject of his portrait. She believes Jeffrey to be an uncle she has never met. When she, Mia, and others go to Florence for Jeffrey's memorial service they meet the contessa, a great beauty who was once Jeffrey's lover. Lulu believes that Jeffrey's studio will hold a trove of his paintings, which would now be worth a veritable fortune. What is found in the one large room where the artist lived and worked is a surprise to all. Well, as Jeffrey was wont to say, 'Process not product,' and what a process reading 'Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him' is! Former editor Danielle Ganek has created fascinating ancillary characters, including Connie wed to the wealthy 'troll-like' Andrew, and a triad of conniving gallerinas - Alexa, Meredith, and Julia. Plus, she provides readers with an insider's view of the craziness associated with today's art scene, a world in which the monied are 'more interested in the art of the deal than the art itself.' Enjoy! - Gail Cooke

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 23, 2010

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    Posted December 27, 2009

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    Posted September 26, 2010

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    Posted November 28, 2008

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    Posted February 19, 2009

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    Posted June 24, 2009

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