By Margaret Mager, President, and Irena Choi Stern, Publicity Chair, Friends of the Bronxville Public Library
Jun 27, 2018: The Friends of the Bronxville Public Library is encouraging book clubs to read The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis in preparation for a special conversation with the national bestselling author that will take place on the evening of Thursday, October 4, 2018, in the library’s Yeager Room.
Davis has established herself as a master of crafting captivating novels about historical New York City. In her fiction, readers are introduced to iconic New York City landmarks (the Barbizon Hotel for Women in her debut novel, The Dollhouse, and The Dakota in her second novel, The Address), through the eyes of women whose lives were transformed by their experiences within the institutions. With meticulous research, dazzling prose, intriguing characters, and an element of mystery, Davis entertains as she enriches readers’ knowledge of bygone eras through a female lens.
This August, she returns with The Masterpiece (Dutton; on sale starting August 7, 2018), sweeping readers into the glamorous lost art school within Grand Central Terminal, where two very different women, fifty years apart, strive to make their mark on a world set against them. The Masterpiece opens in 1928 with Clara Darden, a talented and ambitious illustrator and the only female teacher at the lauded Grand Central School of Art, which was founded by the painters Edmund Greacen, Walter Leighton Clark, and John Singer Sargent in 1924 and enrolled as many as 900 students a year before closing in 1944.
“Unlike my previous novels, two characters in The Masterpiece are inspired by actual people, former instructors at the Grand Central School of Art,” Davis said. “Arshile Gorky was an abstract expressionist painter who led a large and ultimately tragic life, while illustrator Helen Dryden was considered the highest-paid woman artist in the early 1930s before mysteriously disappearing. The duo provided a jumping-off point to explore the role of women artists at that time and capture an art world and a city in flux, caught between the heady Jazz Age and the depths of the Depression.”
A second timeline in the book takes place in 1974 when the very existence of Grand Central Terminal was threatened. Developers went to court to reverse its landmark status so they could plop an enormous skyscraper on top. Support for preserving the building was tenuous, as the city was almost bankrupt, the terminal a faded glory. The fight to save the building, led by Bronxville’s own Brendan Gill, longtime writer for The New Yorker, and the inimitable Jackie Kennedy Onassis (who makes a brief appearance or two in the novel), informs the story of Virginia Clay, a former socialite fallen on hard times who is forced to take a job in the information booth.
“The novel touches upon issues dear to me: how women’s voices and agency have changed over time, the importance of the arts in our lives, and the hidden stories within New York’s historic skyline,” Davis said.
The novel will be available for sale at Womrath Bookshop on Pondfield Road. For further information, contact the Friends of the Bronxville Public Library at
Pictured here: The Bronxville Public Library
Photo by A. Warner
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