Stella Krakus, a curator at Manhattan's renowned Central Museum of Art, is having the roughest week in approximately ever. Her soon-to-be ex-husband (the perfectly awful Whit Ghiscolmbe) is stalking her, a workplace romance with "a fascinating, hyper-rational narcissist" is in freefall, and a beloved colleague, Paul, has gone missing. Strange things are afoot: CeMArt's current exhibit is sponsored by a Belgian multinational that wants to take over the world's water supply, she unwittingly stars in a viral video that's making the rounds, and her mother--the imperious, impossibly glamorous Caro--wants to have lunch. It's almost more than she can overanalyze.
But the appearance of a mysterious map, depicting a 19th-century utopian settlement, sends Stella--a dogged expert in American graphics and fluidomanie (don't ask)--on an all-consuming research mission. As she teases out the links between a haunting poem, several unusual novels, a counterfeiting scheme, and one of the museum's colorful early benefactors, she discovers the unbearable secret that Paul's been keeping, and charts a course out of the chaos of her own life. Pulsing with neurotic humor and dagger-sharp prose, Impossible Views of the World is a dazzling debut novel about how to make it through your early thirties with your brain and heart intact.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)|
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Copyright © 2017 Lucy Ives.
The day Paul Coral vanished, it snowed.
It being week one of April, the sky supplied a slush of frozen gobs, pea-size hail.
I make it sound worse than it was, but in fact it was shitty. Emergency signage diverted me from the ground-f loor staff entry up the museum’s palatial front steps, for once not because of the perennial construction, but on account of a strike by security guards. It was a Monday, and this was the Central Museum’s way of keeping costs down with whichever firm was temping. Limited permeability, etc. Probably unrelated, but no one had thought to put out any salt.
The guards had a fierce and litigious union. Their strike was of the French variety and likely to meet with results. They had stayed point- edly home, but other dissenters were present. A couple of diehards swaddled in tarps still protested WANSEE’s plans for the Nevada aqui- fer. At week five, their foam board was deteriorating, but the gist was the shame of privatizing a natural good. I hiked by with a nod.
WANSEE was a Belgian corporation poised, if my Facebook feed was
not entirely alarmist, to control a significant portion of the planet's ground water. WANSEE was also supplying CeMArt with vital special exhibitions funding, a fact that would probably have kept me up at night had I not long ago abandoned all hope of an oligarch-free cultural landscape. As matters stood, I was indifferent to sleep, though for more personal reasons.
Above billowed a claret banner three stories high advertising the newest show bolstered by the Belgians' largesse, "Land of the Limner," with WANSEE'S sponsorship tagged in nice italics along the bottom. Stabilizing poles clanked like mad.
I breached the neoclassical facade and had my totes searched. I wore my museum ID at my collar for optimum motility, re: hands, burdens. A scab shined her penlight into my eyes.
I am not tall. In fact I am short, with highly regular features. I despise makeup, though I wear lipstick, and, to further frustrate my appearance, I smoke.
The security worker switched her light off and waved me through. I stepped into the cavernous atrium, enjoying the familiar rush of silence that meets Monday's ears and, more particularly, a whiff of senescent freesia, as stems were methodically plucked from a moribund display by a man in a yellow smock.
I would have just made my way to the department, but Marco Jensen, who worked the central desk, was already present, stocking pamphlets, from which labor he recused himself in order to wave me vividly over.
I swerved obediently, arranging my face into a pattern of delight. Marco was like, "I want you to remain calm:'
This was a signal. I did a discreet sweep of as much of the cathedral as possible. Marco appeared to do likewise, for that area which was be hind my head. I leaned in.
Marco was vibrating in place, actually.
Marco is at least eight years younger than me. He is from Malibu by way of Yale and is very easy to look at. "You know Paul?" Everyone in the museum knows Paul, but this was beside the point. "So, like, apparently"-Marco nudged the words out with care, in the process presenting me with multiple views of his meticulously razed chin-"he's missing."
"Yup. Since late last week. Didn't show up for a certain meeting and isn't returning calls. Forget email."
Marco smoothed back an errant slice of hair. "I take it you haven't heard from him?"
"Hey," I was saying, "I have to run:' I paused. "I feel like we should really talk, I mean, that's so intense:'
"Completely:' Marco was nonplussed.
"OK," I said. "Ciao:'
I HAVE MODES OF BEING that are less than elegant, and I have frequently used these to my advantage. On this particular morning, I assumed the demeanor of a roach on its way back to its nest through a lighted kitchen. By this I mean I kept my head down and shot up the main stairs, affecting I could perceive nothing that was not placed directly in front of my face.
You cannot help respecting a person who looks busy as fuck; at least, as long as you don't talk to them, you can't help respecting them. Being as extremely-relatively speaking, I mean, to most adults-petite as I am, I have found that others need little persuading that they either can not see me or that I am not worth the effort.
At any rate, I did not encounter anyone before I gained the department's rear door, which is built into the wall paneling of one of the minor
European galleries and looks more like another decorative aspect of the molding than it does actual ingress.
Paul Coral was almost a friend. Except I couldn't quite say that. He had worked at the museum for something like thirty years as the registrar of American Objects, and we had recently become kind of cordial or trusting or what have you. The odd thing about him, I should say, was that in all his time at CeMArt he seemed not to have done anything, by which I mean that it was extremely difficult to ascertain what exactly it was that he did. Most of his work, or the work that would have fallen to him by dint of his title, was accomplished by a parade of part-time min ions and interns, with whom I had the dubious privilege of interacting by email. Paul's level of awareness of the work they did was difficult to gauge. He floated in and (mostly) out of his office, appearing to spend the lion's share of his working hours meditatively wandering the visible storage gallery and period rooms. One had the sense that he spent a great deal of purposeless time in the museum's American sector. Perhaps he even slept there. I wondered, not very charitably, if anyone had checked the Dutch box-bed.
Anyway, I was feeling unnerved that I had lately begun to cultivate a modestly trusting relationship with this now "missing" person as I made my way to the study room, up the ramp that was at one point added to connect two poorly aligned but proximate floors, an error produced in hasty renovation, and then up the spiral stair, an improvement, legend has it, re quested by a 1950s department head who resented any member of his staff's having to leave the warren in order to move between levels. I am currently unique among my colleagues in American Objects in that I am unable to slam my forehead against the upper treads, lacking requisite height.
It was now 8:05. This was a full seven minutes later than it should have been, for not only am I unfailingly punctual, I really do not like to make a big deal out of it, since I feel that this is not very comely in someone who holds what is for all intents and purposes an entry-level position, despite her doctorate, but this is simply the way things are at present, until the boomers disperse and perish, etc. I like to be early, is what I am saying.
The lights in the study room were on. I thought an expletive.
"And there she is!" My arrival was heralded by a senior colleague, Bonnie Mangold, herself atypically on time. Bonnie was, in addition, the current "Miss Jean Brodie'' of my existence, as my mother would have put it. I cringed, advanced.
I HAVE, AS PEOPLE TEND to do, known my mother all my life. How ever, my supposedly loving rapport with this parent rather too closely resembles my working relationship with Bonnie, in that it demands Herculean affective labor and produces Sisyphean rewards.
My mother's maiden name, which is also the name that she uses to conduct her day-to-day business, is Carolyn Wedgewood Basset. Her marriage to my father (who is deeply Polish and whose Philadelphian origins linger) is ongoing. I have his last name, Krakus, along with, what is less to be celebrated, his face.
I say this not because my father's face is so bad, but because my mother's face happens to be so unrelentingly good. She was born in the late 1940s but the face is still going strong. There is almost nothing about her that you can separate from the face. Its great success is also hers.
I have seen pictures of her when she was in her early twenties, when she and my father first met, which seems, at any rate, like the historical moment at which the life of Caro, as she is commonly known to colleagues and other acquaintances (such as next of kin), begins. In these vintage images she is a fawn, a human Bambi. She is carrying a lunch tray in one splendid candid snap, and as she turns to the light both her eyes and mouth drop open. The face is heart shaped, the perfect mouth outlined in some lighter-than-natural mod lipstick, the eyes like two drawings of eyes and eyelashes, the balance between dark and milky white disturbing, exquisite. The corners of several accidentally bared teeth shine like Chiclets.
As a child, reared in the neurotic northern reaches of Manhattan's Upper East Side, I stared into an array of pictures like this one. These tokens of my mother's power were carelessly archived in a folder in a drawer, along with old invitations, postcards, pieces of wire and ribbon, washers, orphaned keys, and miscellaneous receipts related to maintenance of the household, which endeavor seemed to hinge mainly on furniture repair, dry cleaning of formal attire, and photo processing.
My mother has not assiduously memorialized her astonishing youth. She is not so vain. At least, she isn't so vain in a predictable way, as someone with a face of this kind could probably be forgiven for being. But my mother is a practitioner of a stealth vanity. And this means that she cultivates not herself but her environs. And these environs are under stood to reflect, unfailingly and unceasingly, upon her.
Caro has been helped in her endeavor to create a loyal and unilaterally responsive local system and /or moatlike domestic economy by a certain commercial concern, by means of which she has related to, and profited from, the exterior world. This is her print dealership. It is named Basset's. It exists as a very taupe WordPress site as well as a narrow storefront on Madison near 79th Street, which also means that it is five minutes from my current place of employ. There is little I can do about this.
Basset's deals in late-eighteenth- and nineteenth-century prints and drawings, mostly northern European and Japanese. It has limited stock in: photographs, anything American, the twentieth century. Caro excuses Jasper Johns for some reason. Caro also walks to work. This is one of her stipulations. She travels four times a year. Her shoes are Ferragamo but her shirtdresses Calvin Klein. She represents a mix of mutually inimical social philosophies whose ongoing roiling estuarial encounters are fairly well misted over by pretensions to aristocracy. Neither "Wedge wood" nor "Basset" is, as you may have already guessed, her real name. Far, far beneath, there once breathed someone named Mary Carol Lynch. As far as I can tell, no one currently living has ever met her.
"Mary" was the product of a single mother who was herself the product of a single mother. They lived near the naval base that makes up a significant part of San Diego. The difficulties of dating in the midst of unusual family circumstances in the decades after the Second World War led to alcoholism, anorexia, and psychopathy in my grandmother, if I have correctly interpreted Caro's koanlike sketches. Caro was therefore mostly raised by her grandmother, a chubby German mystic who had quickly survived her own much older husband, a minister. This grandmother, I have it fairly certainly even from limited photographic evidence, possessed the same preternaturally symmetrical facial features, eyes like velvet under glass, as Caro. My (thin, drunk, crazed) grandmother was merely interesting. At some point, in order to survive, my grandmother became her employer's mistress. Things were volatile, violent, and, again, from what I am able to ascertain, absurd.
Caro decamped and did not look back. She made no attempt to please.
She had studied econ in college but, having learned of the existence of something called the history of art, somewhat haphazardly applied to Columbia for her master's and was, beginner's luck, accepted. She would have stayed the course for a doctorate had not, as she maintains, her dissertation advisor appropriated her topic (on the meaning of some of Degas's preparatory sketches) for his own hastily published article and eventual career-clinching book. Frowning upon theft and sloppy patriarchy, Caro determined to go into business for herself
The corresponding name had a nearly simultaneous genes1s: Caro was attempting to access some rare folio, perhaps in a halfhearted attempt to wreak intellectual revenge on the advisor, and had handed over her university ID and was slowly repeating her name to a male library employee, who was both caught in a challenging phone conversation and, as Caro puts it, "manically digging" through a stack of card-catalog drawers, one of which he managed to overturn on his desk, while (as I imagine) attempting to stare lasciviously at her. When her permission slip came back, the preoccupied librarian had erroneously recorded the borrowing party as one "Carolyn Wood Basset." Caro did not know what this appellation meant, but instead of hanging around for the folio, she added a "wedge" and called it a day. A few weeks later through a sensitive mutual acquaintance, a poet and vocalist named Arthur Garfunkel, whose corny advances Caro had neatly converted into friendship, she met my father.
Everything has been fine since. Caro had me accidentally a little late in life and treats me as a potentially pleasant extension of the juggernaut that she is. She does not know what to do about my face, which is squished if not totally unpleasant, sort of like the face of an affable cartoon pig. She does not know what to do with my mind, which is effective and undiscerning and very fast and sometimes given to drift. I am not so much like her.
When I was younger, there were a couple of different games it seemed to interest Caro to play. Of these, Caro's favorite was a kind of counterfeit adoption scenario. Caro would encourage me to befriend a certain attractive, poised girl who would be available to me by way of school. When this girl would come over to our house for some doll-related activity Caro would intervene, would speak to her, engage her. As time went on, Caro's interest would seem to deepen. I would see her alone with the girl, as I stood at some distance. I would look at Caro's smooth face, where inevitably there reigned an expression of magnificent satisfaction. As Caro came closer to me, usually to explain how the shared afternoon would now progress, now that she held the reins, her initial look of satisfaction would be replaced by a new enthusiasm, a desire to inform me of her own accomplishment. Look how easy. Look, Caro seemed to say, how easily I love.
In the study room, there were two people. There was of course my greeter and benefactor, Bonnie Mangold, illustrious departmental chair, celebrated by art historians on three continents. She was dressed, as usual, in layers and did not look angry. She looked, if anything, amused. She yawned and patted her mouth.
Bonnie had a habit of standing with her prosthetic left hand cradled in the nook of her right arm, by which I mean, with the hand tucked into the interior of her bent elbow. She gestured like a smoker with the right arm, tapping the tips of her fingers together for emphasis. She was imperious and overweight.
“Stella, honey,” she said, because she is informal on all occasions, linguistically at least, “go have a look at the coffee.”
I did not delay. I directed my steps toward the mini kitchen. The coffee, in its solitude, had exploded. It gasped forth its last quantities of steam. There was a long wretched drip of grounds and black water trailing from the machine's basket, and the counter was supporting a spreading puddle.
This was likely Bonnie's error. The Kofféman was mechanically finicky as well as physically unbalanced and had to be propped up under one corner with a folded MetroCard I kept in our basket of orphan cutlery for this express purpose.
I walked slowly back to the study room. I wordlessly implored distance, against all odds, to maintain itself The other person there was Fred.
At the moment, Fred was standing with his back to me. This afforded me a few seconds in which to make a catalog of his wardrobe. A perfectly pressed blue oxford, sharp as knives, was sheathed within an impeccable dove-gray merino V-neck. The wool slacks were charcoal, of a vaguely metrosexual but still classic enough cut and of such a quality material that though they sat rather revealingly across Fred's well set-up ass, the effect was of dissembled authority rather than promiscuity. I couldn't see much of his shoes, except that they were clean and black. He was imitating the way Bonnie held her arms, standing beside her, looking down at something in front of them both, on the table.
I would not say that Fred, or Frederick, Lu was liked within the museum. Yet although he does not possess the Adonis good looks of some one like Marco, he was still widely considered the most handsome of our male associates. The strange thing, actually, was how little bearing his beauty had.
This is to say, Frederick Lu was not just aware of his own privilege; he had understood it, like, aggressively. Breeding sat about his person in the manner of an auratic glow, a protective coating. He was the unique product of a union between two of the wealthiest families in the city, the Lus (retail, imports, telecommunications) and the Weynmaarens (ship ping, an array of "natural resources"), and truly one had to wonder what
he was doing working at all. Indeed, in this sense Fred possessed quite a number of admirable qualities, especially from the point of view of that relatively plentiful museum-employee type, the eligible, educated girl.
I am drawing a certain distinction here. It's not that I myself was a total dog, as the expression goes, it's just that I had middling interest in sexual congress with any member [sic] of the institution. Though I know that carefully placed flirtation is often essential to one's professional progress, I did not come to the Central Museum in order to escape the workforce. I liked having a job and wanted to continue having one for some time. At the moment, I didn't really have other plans, in fact. Which occurred to me as its own kind of problem, but more on this later.
The "girl" who works at the museum is very pretty and exceedingly neat. She is a fan of social networking in all its protean forms and not in an ironic way. She writes mildly dissimulated thank-you notes over email each morning, and on paper, more formally, probably a few times a week. She is creating a database that will be of use to her as she ages. Actually, she is so hypermotivated to create occasions for festive, conservative behavior that if this is the type of spouse you, cissexual male, seek, you really cannot go very far wrong with the genre you will encounter at the museum, as ours have exquisite taste, visually speaking, and your house will be an institution. I should also mention, in the case this was not sufficiently clear, that she is most traditional in that she will like you to support her, so please have (preferably), or have the ability to get, a lot of cash. You should enjoy shaving your face every day and be gone from your residence between the hours of 8:30 A.M. and 6:30P.M. at a minimum of six days per week. Bonuses: your family is international; you own a ranch, farm, or series of cottages in a nonurban locale; you participate at an expert level in a sport that involves either the education of large animals or the execution of small ones; you are tall.
Usually she is in an internship and on her way to a master's. Occasionally, if she has not found a suitable mate within the window of two or three years that this method allows, she will begin her doctorate, but such cases, though tragic and actual, are happily quite rare. There is some overlap, I should note, between the museum and auction houses in this sense, though we like to believe we receive the choicer examples of this interesting, aspirational class.
And indeed the girls did like Fred. And Frederick Lu was not ashamed
of liking them. But Fred was thirty-eight and unmarried, and he was already a full curator, holding an endowed post (the Thurston J. and Jeanne A. Prentiss Curator of American Decorative Arts) in American Objects, so apparently he had other stuff going on. I knew he was at least nominally unavailable on account of some other longstanding romantic allegiance. He had a fastidiously maintained patrician fade, a narrow white shock near his right ear, and his face looked a lot like Superman's, only more classically voluptuous. I now recall being told that once in Lu's earlier days he had dressed up as the Kryptonian American one Halloween. For a costume encourages comparison.
But Frederick Lu was known mostly for his early success. He must have been thirty-six or so when he got his current slot. This was before I began working at the museum. The rumor was that now he was being groomed for directorship of the entire place, the first promotion only a kind of necessary formality, as it were. I know this pissed Bonnie off, since she felt that if Nicola di Carboncino, the museum's long-suffering director, were to put his weight behind what she termed "a slightly more serious successor," the museum would have a real chance at keeping corporate inveighers at bay; in other words, we might stop serving as a kind of multipurpose banquet hall and conference center for our far too numerous J. Paul Gettys. Of course, the very fact of Frederick's heir apparency suggests that money was a consideration. I'm not sure if it hurt Bonnie's sense of her own importance, being so summarily passed over for the job, or if she disliked Fred for other, more personal reasons, since in any case it was well worth asking if the museum's director was not just a figurehead, a nominally empowered bureaucratic scapegoat onto whose shoulders blame might, as necessary, always be offloaded.
Bonnie appeared at the moment to be nodding. I hazarded a cough.
Bonnie turned. "Stella, your coat:'
Frederick Lu raised his face and acknowledged me without effecting eye contact.
I informed those assembled that coffee would be another two minutes. "Great," said Bonnie. She made no move to integrate me into the ongoing confab, so I left. I went and slung my coat around a hanger in the still mostly empty hall closet, carefully brushing any remaining wetness from it not so much out of concern for the garment but in order to dis tract myself. My hands were, as usual, trembling slightly. My pulse had quickened annoyingly and I could taste turmoil rising. But it would pass, I reminded myself. I took in several deep breaths through the nose then folded myself into the department's tiny bathroom and spent a few minutes patting down my hair and examining my face. My hair is cut short and, because it is thick and has waves, forms a triangular frame for my features. It's yellow, a dark blond without very much brunette in it. I tapped it at its edges, along the bottom, tap tap tap. I nudged it in hopes of additional volume.
I looked astonished. My eyebrows had migrated up my head and seemed unwilling to return to their normal place of pasture. My eyes were way too large. They appeared, if this is possible, independently scandalized. My mouth was crooked. It was always like this.
In the kitchenette, meanwhile, coffee had successfully precipitated. This at least was good. I transferred the beverage to an ancient beaker shaped thermos. I procured a clean enough mug for myself and poured. I squatted and obtained milk from the minifridge. Then I made my way to my rightful domain, a closetlike office next to the miniature bathroom.
As I was setting my coffee down, the landline rang. I answered and Bonnie said, "Could you step into my off1ce, please?" I asked did she want a coffee. She informed me that this was partly what she had meant, though not entirely unkindly.
I hung up and froze, wondering, for what was by then approaching the eight- or nine-hundredth time, whether or not Bonnie Mangold was aware that Frederick Lu and I had slept together.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
WAY too much unneeded description of everything. I could only stand 15% before closing this book. I won't be going back to it. Reading a book should be entertaining, not agony. I really wanted to like this book, but it was just impossible for me. Thanks to Penguin Group and Net Galley for providing me with a free e-galley in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.
I was able to read this book before the publication date thanks to NetGalley and Penguin Publishing Group. Stella is a curator with a week from hell. To top it all off, her co-worker, Paul, goes missing. Finding a map makes her question everything about anything she knows. She deals with everything on her plate, while also finding out things about her co-worker Paul. This book was not for me. I really, really struggled to get through this book. Even though it was a relatively short book, it took me some time to actually finish it. I wanted to like this book. The cover is beautiful and the synopsis definitely intrigued me. However, that’s about how far it got for me. First, the writing style was too much for me. I can tell that Lucy Ives has the writing style of a poet. There were times where I had to reread because things were confusing for me. I never read poetry, therefore, it might be hard for another reader who is like me and never reads that kind of writing style. Next, I felt like some of the writing was pretentious. It seemed like the character seemed like she was all high and mighty. I’m still trying to figure out if it was the narration, writing style, or the character, Stella, herself. This book was classified as a mystery, and I agree that there were some parts that had mysterious accents, but not many. There were a few parts around 30% that grabbed my attention, but I felt like that might have been the only time. There were a few descriptions that this book had that wasn’t fulfilled. I really wanted and tried to like this book. Unfortunately, the writing style made it hard for me to follow, along with the narration used. Towards the end, I was just reading to get to the end. Overall, I just couldn’t get into it. I wish I had liked it better, but it just wasn’t for me.
Impossible Views of the World by Lucy Ives is a so-so novel about a hipper-than-you-or-me art curator. This is a week in the life of Stella Krakus, a curator at Manhattan's renowned Central Museum of Art. Her friend and colleague, Paul, has gone missing. Her mother, the world renown glamorous art dealer Caro, wants to have lunch with her. Her soon-to-be ex-husband is stalking her. She's been having an affair/fling with her boss. And she's uncovered several different secrets, including an intriguing map, that she wants to research and solve the mystery. Billed as a mystery, it really isn't, so if you are a fan of mysteries you might want to by-pass this selection. Sure she discovers some answers to the questions she raises about her discoveries/encounters along the way, but it never has the feeling of a true mystery. To make following the mysteries more challenging is the fact that Stella's not very likeable, or perhaps I'm just not as cool as she is. I'll go with a so-so rating, conceding that small glimmers of hope for the quality of future novels appear in the pages. Honestly, I struggled to finish this one but kept reading for one reason alone - some of the descriptions in the writing. Not all of the writing is worth the struggle, but there are small, subtle gems hidden among the dregs of way-too-much. The problem was in the way-to-much. It isn't always satisfying to read a novel that seemingly strives for pretentiousness. Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of the Penguin Publishing Group.