Lenora Anne Maxwell's paintings are forgeries, but they're not copies. For one thing, they seem to change whenever a viewer looks at them. And for another thing, Lenora Anne's brush is guided by the ghost of her dead husband, Jay. In their youth, Lenora Anne and Jay are separated by the Great Depression and reunited by WWII, to be married just eight years before Jay's sudden death—but not departure from his wife and their son, Carlton. Through the last half of the twentieth century, Lenora Anne builds a life for herself and Carlton in New Orleans, caught in a shadow bridging two worlds.
Though he was reared in the midst of New Orleans' society, Carlton Maxwell III is in but not of that narrow set. His summers are spent in France with his mother and the uncles, who teach him how to navigate safely within and without the gay world. At home in New Orleans, he manages his antique shop and maintains an unusually honored position in society. Lenora Anne is his best friend and cornerstone of his life; her paintings suffuse his every memory. When he loses his partner to AIDS, it is his mother who guides Carlton through the valley of bereavement. Manuela Villalobos, Carlton's maid and his mother's friend, serves him as faithful employee and subtle caretaker.
By sheer will and hard work, Manuela Villalobos leaves farming to earn a university degree. But Death and the farm conspire to take Manuela's husband, Enrique, leaving her to raise their daughter Isabel alone. Against all laws, Enrique transcends the veil between Life and Death, renewing the tie that binds him to his wife and child. When an incurable disease strikes Isabel's daughter, Manuela humbles herself to leave her teaching job in Mexico, and go to work as a maid in New Orleans. It is the only way she can earn enough money to buy the medications that keep her granddaughter alive.
Now time is collapsing on their world. Lenora Anne faces a confrontation she has avoided for half a century. Carlton fears the possibility of seeing his eighty-five-year-old mother go to prison as an art forger. Only Manuela can unveil the secret that will at last make peace between the living and the dead.
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About the Author
From the Author: Brushing with Death first came into being as an homage to a woman I knew in Texas back in the sixties. Her name was Manuela, and she was a live-in maid working in El Paso. Manuela was a university graduate who formerly taught history at a high school in Mexico. Humbling herself to support her family, she left her teaching job because she could earn more money as a maid in the US.
When I started writing this novel, that early Manuela began to 'talk' to me, introducing the story of a namesake who would become the ultimately pivotal character in the lives of the Maxwell family.