Friday, June 21, 2013

Crossing the Line

I would guess that everyone reading this post has, at one time or another, made a choice that to some extent violated his or her moral principles. Not necessarily a criminal choice: a lie told to avert some unpleasant consequence (or spare someone else’s feelings), a cookie filched too close to dinner, a rule broken or a speed limit exceeded, even an error made by a store clerk and not pointed out because it operated in the customer’s favor—small transgressions like these are part of the fabric of life.

Everyone makes mistakes, and most of us try to justify them—at least up to the point where their costs become impossible to deny. Fictional characters, too, must make mistakes if they are to appear human. Indeed, they get to make the big mistakes, the ones most of us don’t dare attempt. By reading about the characters’ bad choices, the ways they rationalize those choices, and the harm they suffer as a result, we the readers experience the joys of giving into temptation without paying any greater price than the cost of the book. Writers get a similar shot in the arm from imagining themselves, via their villains and heroes, crossing the moral lines, entering forbidden realms.

This deeply human experience forms the backbone of The Art Forger, whose author, B. A. Shapiro, I interview in the latest addition to New Books in Historical Fiction (NBHF). All the characters cross at least one moral boundary; most push past several. Some grow from the experience; others don’t. But their individual paths blend and overlap like Claire’s art, and the results are fascinating. It’s not hard to see why this book is moving steadily up the New York Times bestseller list for trade paperbacks.

The rest of this post comes from the NBHF site, where you can find the podcast interview itself.

Claire Roth can’t believe her luck when the owner of Boston’s most prestigious art gallery offers her a one-woman show. Of course, there’s a catch: he asks her to copy a painting. A small price to pay to revive her stalled career, Claire thinks—until she discovers that the painting in question is Degas’s After the Bath, stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum as part of the greatest art heist in history.

But as Claire wrestles with her conscience and tackles the Degas, she begins to suspect that the painting is no more “original” than her reproduction. Who forged it, and how has the imitation defied detection for so long? The answers depend on another moral line crossed more than a century ago.

The Art Forger has as many layers as one of Claire’s paintings. Join us as B. A. Shapiro  talks about boundaries and choices, forgery and art, celebrity and value, the viewpoint of a visual artist, the trials of publishing and the joys of writing a bestselling novel—and “Belle” Gardner, who once walked lions down a Boston street and shocked the stuffy Brahmins with her low-cut gowns.

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