The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque
William Morrow, June, 2002.
Hardcover, 310 pages.
Jeffrey Ford burst on the literary scene with his fantastic novels, The Physiognomy and Memoranda. Now, Ford takes readers back to 1893 New York. Piero Piambo is society's favorite portrait artist. Adored by the noveau riche, Piambo despises himself for selling out to the highest bidder. Still, he is doing quite well, financially. One day, a blind man approaches him and offers him an exceptional job which will not only pay an extraordinary fee, but will pose a great challenge to Piambo's artistry. Piambo must paint an exact likeness of the mysterious Mrs. Charbuque. The catch: she will remain seated behind a screen, and Piambo must figure out what she looks like from the stories she tells him. As Mrs. Charbuque tells Piambo the bizarre story of her life, Piambo becomes obsessed with finding out what his subject looks like. Meanwhile, the city is in the grip of a grisly serial killer who leaves his victims weeping from the eyes. Could Mrs. Charbuque be connected in some way to the deaths?
No one tells a story or creates a landscape quite like Jeffrey Ford. As Mrs. Charbuque spins her spider web of stories, the reader finds himself fantasizing about the appearance of the lady. Is she beautiful? Horribly ugly? Perhaps deformed in some way? And poor Piambo -- he is nearly being driven mad by the wondering. At turns, captivating, macabre and ghoulishly funny, The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque is classic Jeffrey Ford: it is simply riveting.
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This review was published in the July-August, 2002 of The Internet Writing Journal.
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