Synopses & Reviews
Elmira Howells is a distinguished art specialist at Tinsley’s, an elite Manhattan auction house founded by her great-grandfather. But since the death of her eight-year-old son, both her work and her personal life have suffered. Her boss is pressuring her to bring in larger commissions, her once-supportive husband has seemingly come to terms with his grief, and their five-year-old daughter barely remembers her brother. Recklessly determined to recreate her old life, Elm secretly explores the possibility of a new pregnancy without her family’s knowledge.
Meanwhile, in Paris, Gabriel Connois is following in the footsteps of his great-grandfather, the famous 19th century painter who shares his name. But lately he has tired of being a marginal “starving artist” while his peers are gaining standing and recognition in the art world. When his status-seeking girlfriend introduces Gabriel to a dealer offering to buy artwork in the style of his celebrated ancestor, the potential rewards are difficult to resist.
Hoping to retrieve what they’ve lost and what they believe they deserve, Elmira and Gabriel become inextricably involved in a scheme that will rattle the insular art world and place everything they’ve worked for in jeopardy. Scintillating, funny, and startlingly fresh, A Nearly Perfect Copy boldly challenges our presumptions about originality and authenticity, loss and replacement, and examines the strange dominion that family holds over us.
"This is what people mean when they use the term 'intelligent page-turner.' Amend is a brilliant storyteller, whose pitch-perfect observations call to mind Jonathan Franzen and Jennifer Egan. The complicated, completely fascinating characters (built with such human sympathy), 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
"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
"[A] fast-paced, intriguing novel." People
"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
“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
"[Written] with supple command, caustic wit, and a deep fascination with decent people who lose their moral compass....As Amend tracks the descent of her two wounded and alienated innocents into lies, desperation, and crime, her 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." Booklist
"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....Her exploration of the ethics and the mechanics of the art world provide charm and enjoyment....A provocative and likable read." Kirkus Reviews
"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." BookPage
Richly drawn and sharply observed, A Nearly Perfect Copy
is a smart and affecting novel of family and forgery set amidst the rarefied international art world.
Elm Howells has a loving family and a distinguished career at an elite Manhattan 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, and, 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.
About the Author
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.
Reading Group Guide
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?