March 18th, 2014

agent

The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque, by Jeffrey Ford

An artist is hired to paint the titular portrait. Added difficulty: he's not allowed to view his subject. They converse for an hour a day with a screen dividing them, and she spins some elaborate yarns from which he will be able, it is supposed, to form a picture that will serve as a model for the portrait. Her violent husband appears from time to time to further complicate matters.

Although I didn't much like The Physiognomy by the same author, this was much better. The story does jerk you around a lot, but at least the setting in late 19th century New York City provides a relatively stable platform. It builds up a nice fantasy-tinged mystery, and then blows all that good will in the last five pages. Bad ending, no cookie.