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Tall Poppy Review: “The Curiosities” Exposes Grief

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“Art is like life,” Susan Gloss writes in The Curiosities (William Morrow). “It’s fragile, but that doesn’t mean you should never take a risk.”

Taking a risk is exactly what Gloss’ protagonist, Nell, does when, in the wake of the loss of her baby, born at only 22-weeks’ gestation, she, looking for new opportunities, a fresh start, and, potentially, a new life, accepts a position as director of a brand-new artists’ colony.

Her loving husband, Josh, is completely in the dark about the debt his wife is accruing as she insists that they plunge forward after their loss by continuing fertility treatment to try to conceive again. Josh believes that this new job will be a good distraction for his wife and a perfect way to put her Ph.D. in Art History to use. Though his wife is in pain, he doesn’t fully understand the depth of her despair, as she rarely discusses it.

Image Courtesy of Amazon

Nell begins work at the artist’s colony that, Betsy Barrett,
after her death, left behind. Betsy was an eccentric, forward-thinking and very wealthy society maven who donated not only her vast, hidden collection of modern art but also her sprawling lakeside home to the community.

Her final wishes were to use what she acquired in her life to establish an artist-in-residency program that will cater to a diverse crowd of talented individuals. When Nell arrives at her first day on the job, expecting, at the very least, some instruction, the estate’s executor simply hands her a set of house keys and sends her on her way. The task of bringing Betsy’s vision to life is left solely on Nell’s shoulders, which at once terrifies and thrills her.

Paige, Odin and Annie, the artists in residence at “The Mansion,” are all suffering their own losses and overcoming their adversities. In many ways, they each poignantly portray a different way in which grief is expressed. Their stories are juxtaposed with Nell’s and with Betsy’s, creating a multigenerational tale that beautifully illustrates the ways in which our personal trials and tribulations affect and inspire the ones around us—and how each step in the journey leads us where we’re ultimately meant to be.

The six months spent at the colony are filled with difficulties for each of the characters in The Curiosities. Nell’s distance from her husband and their inability to get on the same page after the loss of their baby only serves to exacerbate her pain. Odin’s attraction to Nell is inconvenient for both of them, to say the least. This situation is especially difficult since it is the first attraction Odin has felt since the death of his one true love Sloane, the woman who ran the gallery and gave him his start. How Nell responds to Odin’s feelings could ultimately end her already fragile marriage.

Art student Paige has always, since her childhood, been on a quest to feel something. But Nell, Odin and Annie can’t help but worry about her inability to commit to a relationship and her tendency to find inspiration for new art in a string of one-night stands.

Annie’s latest project is focused on portraying the beauty behind pain, the person behind sickness, and capturing the soul of a human who, marred by illness, could easily be forgotten by the world. It is a noble project and one that Nell connects with instantly. Only, the way that Annie is luring her subjects to the Mansion leads to her arrest—and puts the colony and everyone in it at risk.

Yet, among the rubble of their lives—and against a stunning Wisconsin backdrop—beauty grows in their art and their relationships. Nell’s husband takes on Annie’s case, which joins them in a unified goal and brings them closer together. Once this feat is accomplished, the characters rally around each other in ways they never thought possible.

Ultimately, six months turns four strangers into four friends and a family of sorts. These four teach one another about the beauty and fragility of not only their craft but also of their lives. And while they, like the subjects in Annie’s art, may never be cured, the Mansion has given them a chance to heal.

A richly layered tale on the intersection of five very different lives, The Curiosities uniquely depicts how each step in the journey leads us where we’re ultimately meant to be. Page by page, Gloss proves that the beauty of life—like art—is often revealed to us a little at a time.

The Curiosities will release February 5, 2019.

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ABOUT SUSAN GLOSS:

Susan Gloss is the bestselling author of the award-winning novel Vintage (William Morrow/HarperCollins), and The Curiosities (coming in February 2019). She is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame, where she majored in English and Spanish, and the University of Wisconsin Law School. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin, with her family. You can purchase/order Susan’s books at her local Madison independent bookseller Mystery to Me.

Kristy Woodson Harvey is the national bestselling author of Dear Carolina, Lies and Other Acts of Love, Slightly South of Simple and the forthcoming The Secret to Southern Charm. Her writing has appeared in numerous online and print publications including Southern Living, Parade, Traditional Home and O.Henry. She blogs daily with her mom about how creating a beautiful home can be the catalyst for creating a beautiful life on Design Chic and lives on the North Carolina coast with her husband and son.

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