Lydia Cassat Reading the Morning Paper
#1 Book Sense 76 Pick, November/December 2001
Harriet Scott Chessman takes us into the world of Mary Cassatt's early Impressionist paintings through Mary's sister Lydia, whom the author sees as Cassatt's most inspiring muse. Chessman hauntingly brings to life Paris in 1880, with its thriving art world. The novel's subtle power rises out of a sustained inquiry into arts relation to the ragged world of desire and mortality. Ill with Brights disease and conscious of her approaching death, Lydia contemplates her world narrowing. With the rising emotional tension between the loving sisters, between one who sees and one who is seen, Lydia asks moving questions about love and art's capacity to remember. Chessman illuminates Cassatt's brilliant paintings and creates a compelling portrait of the brave and memorable model who inhabits them with such grace. Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper includes five full-color plates, the entire group of paintings Mary Cassatt made of her sister.
STARRED REVIEW "Shaded with intimations of mortality, a second novel touches tenderly on the relationship between Impressionist painter Mary Cassatt (1844?-1926) and her ailing older sister Lydia. Chessman (Ohio Angels, 1999) uses five of Cassatt's paintings and their circumstances to shape her story … A moving and intensely introspective portrait of the way art is created and life relinquished." —Kirkus Reviews
"As you read Chessman's second novel (after Ohio Angels ), be prepared for an insightful and moving tale about a great American painter and her family. Here is the poignant story of Lydia, Mary Cassatt's sister, who details the important role she played in the creation of Cassatt's early Impressionist paintings. Each chapter centers on a painting by Mary that involves Lydia, and the narrative offers wonderful insight into Cassatt's bold life and her relationship with artists such as Renoir, Caillebotte, and especially Degas. Though Lydia is fighting a horrible battle against Bright's disease, she continues to pose for her sister and to live her life with courage and dignity. As Degas observes to Lydia, 'You show me how to live, if only I could do it as you do.' A special treat is the inclusion of color plates of famed Cassatt works like Lydia Crocheting in the Garden. Like Tracy Chevalier's Girl with a Pearl Earring (LJ 10/15/99), this book beautifully limns the impact of art on a woman close to a great artist—though the women involved are very different. Highly recommended for both public and academic libraries." —Vicki Cecil, Library Journal
"This novel is shot through with … moments of recognition, some in silence, others in conversation, particularly with Degas. Most are balanced, however, by the author's awareness that her dying heroine is isolated, even among those she loves. There is a heartbreaking simplicity to Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper. Yet like Cassatt's art, its odd angles and delicate, inevitable details - some just out of our vision - make themselves felt long after one has finished long after one has finished this fine period piece." —Kerry Fried, Newsday