Ford expertly created a surreal alternate landscape in his acclaimed fantasies The Physiognomy and Memoranda; here, in his fourth novel, sepia-colored old New York is the fever-dream world. Piero Piambo is the portraitist of choice among New York's nouveau riche in 1893, but his career fills him with self-loathing. When a blind man with uncannily white eyes offers him "a job like no other" painting the mysterious Mrs. Charbuque Piambo quickly accepts, as the hefty commission will allow him to abandon society portraiture. But the terms of the deal are very strange: Mrs. Charbuque insists that she will hide behind a screen; to divine what she looks like, Piambo may ask her questions, but not about her appearance. It soon becomes clear that she will not be interrogated; instead, like a possibly "unhinged" Scheherazade, she mesmerizes Piambo with her story of growing up convinced she possessed psychic powers conferred on her by twin snowflakes. Piambo's opium-addicted friend Shenz convinces him to investigate his mysterious model, leading them to interview a deranged "turdologist" who sheds light on her past. But then Piambo is assaulted by a man identifying himself as Mr. Charbuque, demanding to know why the artist is "seeing my wife." And there are other dangers about, as the city is under attack by a parasite that eats "the soft tissue of the eye" and causes its victims to weep blood. Add dangerously unstable characters speaking with delicious floridity, unexpected bursts of macabre humor and violence, and a gender-bending subplot that subtly picks up steam, and you have a standout literary thriller.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Adult/High School-A true literary thriller. In New York City at the turn of the 20th century, Piambo is a young artist earning his bread painting "corrective" portraits of plain society wives, beautifying them for the canvas and their husbands. He has a crisis of conscience when one woman, standing under her portrait, leans close and whispers, "I hope you die." As he restlessly wanders the streets that night, a blind man approaches, claiming to know him by his dishonest smell, and offers him the commission of a lifetime: paint a portrait of his employer and receive compensation so grand that he will never have to paint another wife. The catch? Piambo will not be permitted to see Mrs. Charbuque. She will sit behind a screen, and he may ask her questions; from the answers he is to divine her essence. If he captures her likeness, compensation will triple. From this irresistible premise, Ford devilishly spins his story in prose so controlled-yet so dark with underlying fever and inevitability-that it calls to mind Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. The philosophical and psychological aspects loom large, and Mrs. Charbuque is a near-masterpiece-part sphinx, part hydra, the stuff of the most potent myths. A subplot involving a possible plague adds some hardcore spookiness and, of course, points back to Mrs. Charbuque. This book is smart, spellbinding, and sure to knock any teen's favorite suspense/horror tale from top place to second.
Emily Lloyd, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
The delightful Mrs. Charbuque captures not only the artist commissioned to paint her - unseen - but also we readers as well. Read morePublished on Jan. 4 2008 by Dave and Joe
The style of Mr. Ford's writing and the intriguing story he tells make this book an absolute pleasure to read. Read morePublished on Nov. 16 2003
This book has a nifty idea, and well imagined setting, excellent characters (I especially liked the hero's girlfriend and his opium addicted painting pal - Ford portrays them as... Read morePublished on July 11 2003 by Arthur Enyedy
This is almost an amazing book.
The concept is intriguing, and through most of it just the enigma of Mrs. Charbuque kept me reading. Read more
Ford's genre-defying work continues in this novel, a wonderful read that I'd recommend to practically anyone with an interest in reading something non-formulaic. Read morePublished on May 16 2003 by z
I thought it was an intriguing premise from the start. I, too, was trying to draw in my mind what Mrs. Charbuque would look like. It is very entertaining and worth the read.Published on May 11 2003
really well worth reading. sort of a cross between caleb carr and jonathan carroll. i breezed through it in 2 days, and only wished it were longer. Read morePublished on March 24 2003
I was up until almost 2 o'clock this morning with this book. Started it last night just before I went to bed, and couldn't put it down until I'd finished it. Read morePublished on Oct. 19 2002 by Jerry Hewett