From the highly acclaimed, bestselling National Book Award nominee, a “funny…beautiful…audacious…masterful” (J. Courtney Sullivan, The Boston Globe) novel about the way memory haunts and shapes the present.
Marie and Simone, friends for decades, were once immigrants to the city, survivors of World War II in Europe. Now widows living alone in Chelsea, they remain robust, engaged, and adventurous, even as the vistas from their past interrupt their present. Helen is an art historian who takes a painting class with Marie and Simone. Sid Morris, their instructor, presides over a dusty studio in a tenement slated for condo conversion; he awakes the interest of both Simone and Marie. Elizabeth is Marie’s upstairs tenant, a woman convinced that others have a secret way of being, a confidence and certainty she lacks. She is increasingly unmoored—baffled by her teenage son, her husband, and the roles she is meant to play.
In a chorus of voices, Kate Walbert, a “wickedly smart, gorgeous writer” (The New York Times Book Review), explores the growing disconnect between the world of action her characters inhabit and the longings, desires, and doubts they experience. Interweaving long narrative footnotes, Walbert paints portraits of marriage, of friendship, and of love in its many facets, always limning the inner life, the place of deepest yearning and anxiety. The Sunken Cathedral is a stunningly beautiful, profoundly wise novel about the way we live now—“fascinating, moving, and significant” (Ron Charles, The Washington Post).
Footnotes enrich the text of this short, deceptively simple novel; altogether the book combines memories, regrets, doubts, hopes, fears, and mental detours including an escape from war-torn France and the past of a sugar maple tree. The result is a multidimensional portrait of two 80-something widows in New York's Chelsea neighborhood venturing outside their comfort zone to take an art class. Simone and Marie, both French survivors of WWII, have been friends since meeting as young mothers on a Brooklyn playground. Neighbors, family, art students, and school administrators provide a supporting cast whose hopes and disappointments, routines and crises, pleasures, and fears converge to form an ode to New York City, a riff on aging, and a discourse on living with a vague fear of impending catastrophe. A keen observer of architecture, landscape, and culture, Walbert (A Short History of Women) takes inspiration from Debussy's water music, referenced in the title and with impressionistic dabs of prose and subtle shifts of tone. Whether she is being technically exact or ingeniously playful, above or below the (High) line, Walbert's wistful glimpse of women reaching out during their last days of independence offers a penetrating look at New York and the world, post-9/11, post-Sandy, pre the next disaster.
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The sunken cathedral
Fantastic read, well worth spending some quality time with it.