Elm Howells has a loving family and a distinguished career at an elite Manhattan art auction house. But after a tragic loss throws her into an emotional crisis, she pursues a reckless course of action that jeopardizes her personal and professional success. Meanwhile, talented artist Gabriel Connois wearies of remaining at the margins of the capricious Parisian art scene. Desperate for recognition, he embarks on a scheme that threatens his burgeoning reputation. As these narratives converge, with disastrous consequences, A Nearly Perfect Copy boldly challenges our presumptions about originality and authenticity, loss and replacement, and the perilous pursuit of perfection.
Excerpted from A Nearly Perfect Copy by Allison Amend. Copyright © 2013 by Allison Amend. Excerpted by permission of Anchor, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Allison Amend, a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, is the author of the Independent Publisher’s Award-winning short story collection Things That Pass for Love and the novel Stations West, which was a finalist for the 2011 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature and the Oklahoma Book Award. She lives in New York City, where she teaches creative writing at Lehman College.
“Wonderfully witty and stylish. . . . A smart page turner . . . Amend creates very real characters who live in a very unreal world.”
“Amend tells an absorbing story of believable characters walking a tightrope of ethical dilemma and despair. . . . Artistic and beautiful.”
—St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Intricate and ambitious . . . Amend’s characters [are] relatable and visceral. . . . [Her] crisp, even prose is hard to pull away from and subtle in its elegance.”
—The Dallas Morning News
“[A] fast-paced, intriguing novel.”
“Amend creates suspense by charting in wincing detail Elm’s and Gabriel’s progress through ethically gray areas in the art market to unquestionably illegal acts. . . . Well-wrought . . . the author meticulously delineates [her characters’] yearnings and frustrations. . . . Cleverly rendered.”
—The Washington Post
“Amend draws sharp characters [and] creates a nicely evolving plot. . . . What unfolds is acutely appealing: various characters struggling to overcome defeat and failure in their private and public lives. . . . I got caught up in their problems, their struggles. I loved the lore about the art business. Really, I found this to be a terrifically entertaining novel that never lost its hold on the hearts of its characters or mine.”
—Alan Cheuse, NPR
“Beautiful. . . . Amend’s brisk, complex second novel focuses on artistic lineage and forgery, loss and replacement, and questions of origin and originality. . . . Stunningly well-researched, A Nearly Perfect Copy is studded with fascinating detail.”
“A flawlessly rendered, totally engrossing, class-and-continent hopping story. . . . Every scene, every page, every passage of this novel has been written with the stunning clarity and great humanity of a true artist at the height of her abilities. My guess is, if you read this book you will soon be shoving it into the hand of someone you love. I certainly will.”
—Charles Bock, New York Times bestselling author of Beautiful Children
“Just when you think you know where A Nearly Perfect Copy is going, it swerves, like life, in some new direction. Allison Amend has packed this book with wit, style, yearning, risk, damage, truth, and compassion, populated it with characters who breathe with their own individual mystery, and along the way written what just might be the definitive fictional treatment of art forgery.”
—Kevin Brockmeier, author of The Brief History of the Dead
“This is what people mean when they use the term ‘intelligent page-turner.’ Amend is a brilliant storyteller. . . . The complicated, completely fascinating characters, the intricacy and cleverness of the plot, and the razor sharp exploration of contemporary mores make for a truly masterful read. I loved, loved, loved it.”
—Joanna Smith Rakoff, author of A Fortunate Age
“Something very real comes out of the many layers of forgery in Allison Amend’s brainy intrigue of the shadowy side of the art world. . . . A captivating story.”
—Ron Carlson, author of The Signal
“Allison Amend is a gifted storyteller—no, more than gifted. Her writing is powerful enough to create its own kind of weather. Her characters are so real it’s as if you could reach between the pages and shake hands with them.”
—Hannah Tinti, author of The Good Thief
“[An] intricate, witty page-turner.”
“A well-crafted and introspective novel that will provide fodder for thoughtful discussions on morality and integrity.”
—Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star
“Clever, wry . . . Amend makes her characters immediately real, depicting their complicated desires and decisions in a highly enjoyable, nearly perfect novel.”
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
“[Written] with supple command, caustic wit, and a deep fascination with decent people who lose their moral compass. . . . [Amend’s] visual acuity, fluent psychology, venture into the shadow side of the art world, and storytelling verve make for a blue-chip novel of substance and suspense.”
“A fast-paced, lively novel of forgery . . . Amend provides a fizzy, entertaining insider’s look at the conjunction of visual art and commerce—especially the world of art auctions. . . . A provocative and likable read.”
“Amend’s talent is on full display as these smart, complex narratives dance around each other, each capturing the reader’s imagination without ever detracting from the other story. Although she’s received critical acclaim for her work in a number of literary publications and for her historical novel, Stations West, this finely rendered portrait of two lives should introduce Amend to a wider audience.”
1. What role does provenance play in the novel, in terms of both art and people? What are Elm and Gabriel’s origins and how do their family legacies affect them? How do wealth and/or birthright contribute to Elm and Gabriel’s feelings of entitlement?
2. Family can be, by turns, a blessing and a burden. How do the characters reflect these attitudes?
3. The novel is told in alternating narratives. How do the two stories mirror each other? How are they different?
4. When Gabriel suggests to his mother that they sell the Febrer painting, his mother likens the painting to “a part of our family,” while Gabriel counters that it’s “a piece of cloth with some decorative oil.” Which sentiment do you agree with? Does art have intrinsic value, or only the value we assign it?
5. On page 134, Klinman says to Gabriel, “Say you borrow twenty euros from someone. Then you pay them back. Does it have to be the same twenty euros? Of course not.” How does this analogy hold up when applied to fine art?
6. How does Gabriel’s sense of alienation affect him? When people are marginalized – whether by choice or circumstance – do you think they’re more likely to behave dishonorably?
7. As a society, we are increasingly concerned with authenticity, and yet advancements in technology and science have made duplication easier than ever. What are some examples of this? When is copying objectionable and when is it beneficial?
8. Deception is a recurring motif in the novel. Which characters commit deceit and which characters are deceived? Did Colin’s admission to Elm change your feelings about him? About her own duplicity?
9. Klinman justifies his dishonesty by sharing the proceeds of his forgeries with victims of the Nazis. Does this make his crime morally defensible?