The Sunken Cathedral by Kate Walbert, review by Sarah Bagby
Kate Walbert's elegant and compact new novel The Sunken Cathedral takes its name from a composition by Debussy, who is said in the book to be to music what Cezanne is to painting--Impressionist.
Walbert's novel can also be described as Impressionistic. In a few square blocks of the Chelsea neighborhood, Walbert combines complex characters, imagery and introspection in swaths, resulting in a whole vivid portrait of the world we live in right now.
Two elderly women, Marie and Simone, join a painting class at the School of Inspired Arts. Located on the second floor of a walk up, it is owned by Sid Morris, who is also the teacher. Sid was minor member of the Ashcan School, a group of artists who challenged the status quo in the early 20th century to paint realistic scenes in New York City. The class also includes Helen, an art historian; a sullen young man who goes by "Duane Reed," after the popular pharmacy where he works; and the model who poses for the class. Each class includes a "friendly break" during which the students discuss art and chat about life. The connections they make enrich their lives in unexpected ways.
Using expansive footnotes, which at first I was suspicious of but soon looked forward to, Walbert shows how seemingly fragmented and random episodes in our lives have relevance to right now.
It's tempting to read this gorgeous novel quickly. I recommend stepping in and out, thinking and absorbing all the impressions mixed together that show the fragility and tenderness of our world, our neighborhoods, and our individual lives.
Sarah Bagby's review first appeared on 89.1 KMUW. Listen to her review HERE.