By Leslie Lindsay
A tender exploration of love and loss, addiction and recovery, pain and healing, THE CURIOSITIES is about the fragile condition of the human soul and art.
Madison, Wisconsin is a mecca of artistic pursuits–with a ton of authors in residence, but in all honesty, I am not sure I’ve read a book *set* in Madison—but THE CURIOSITIES (Berkley, Feb 2019)–takes place right in the heart of the city. I loved this! Plus, I absolutely adore reading about art–it’s like two art forms in one, a double treat.
Nell Parker has a PhD in art history. She lives in a cozy Craftsman bungalow with her attorney/professor husband, but she is devastated by a recent miscarriage. She’s grieving and having difficulty moving forward. Plus, she’s swimming in a mound of (secret) debt. As luck would have it, Nell finds herself accepting a position as the director of a nonprofit artist’s colony, established by the late Betsy Barrett, a patron of the modern arts. Nell isn’t sure she’s exactly cut out for the job, but she’s willing to give it a shot.
The Colony is located at Betsy Barrett’s lakeside mansion and Nell quickly finds herself having it wired for wifi and sorting through applications, accepting artists from Minneapolis and NYC and Madison to the fold. There’s Odin, whose medium is metal and sculpture, Paige who is a local mulitmedia artist in her final year of school, and Annie, who has made her name in photography and political activism.
There are so many lovely artistic references throughout THE CURIOSITIES and I found myself wanting to dive right into the art world Gloss paints with her words. I found the storytelling engaging and confident but with a lightness (though many of the themes and topics are not). Each member of the colony is struggling in some way–they have some dark scars–and it’s through art, and each other, that healing takes place.
Gloss weaves a colorful tapestry of flawed humans doing the best they can with what they have, their skills, talents, and more in this exploration of addiction and recovery, pain and loss, love, and friendship. There’s such a good feeling at the end that everything–and everyone–will be okay.
Susan is an attorney, novelist, Madisonion, and lover of vintage art and clothing. Here’s a warm welcome to the lovely Susan Gloss…
Susan, I love, love this book. Like art, the characters and situations are colorful and multifaceted. I’m curious (like how I did that), where the idea for THE CURIOSITIES came from? Was there a situation, place, or theme you wanted to explore?
After I wrote VINTAGE, I got a lot of feedback from readers that they loved the secondary character of Betsy Barrett, and wanted to know more about her. I realized that I, too, wanted to know more about her. However, in my second novel, I also wanted to explore new themes and new characters that weren’t present in VINTAGE.
At the end of VINTAGE, we learn that Betsy made plans to leave her substantial estate to establish a charitable art foundation. By writing about the artists’ colony run out of Betsy’s lakeside mansion, I was able to write about entirely new characters—the artists who live at the colony—as well as delving deeper into Betsy’s character by revealing glimpses of her past through the objects in her home.
So, Madison. I love the city. I’ve been several times for writing conferences and retreats, it’s brimming with diversity and inspiration. I currently live in Chicago, and spent about 5 years in the Minneapolis area…s0, THE CURIOSITIES really hit on many (most) places in the book. How do you think we’re shaped—artistically—by our location?
It’s important to me that my work has a strong sense of place. I think artists—both visual artists and writers—are shaped heavily by our locations. Just as the flavor of a wine is influenced by its terroir, the landscape, culture, and feel of a place are expressed in an artist’s work.
“Heartwarming journey of uncertainty, growth, and acceptance…likely to appeal to fans of Sarah Pekkanen and Deborah Carol Gang.”
There are so many perceptive descriptions of art and its creation in THE CURIOSITIES. But you’re an attorney. Can you talk about your fondness for art and how you see the two (art and law) working in tandem? Plus, how do you have time to do both?!
My love of art goes way back to my childhood, when my mom would drive my brothers and I three hours from Green Bay, Wisconsin, down to Chicago so we could see the world-class collections and exhibits at the Art Institute of Chicago. Studying abroad in Spain my junior year of college deepened that love, and now I try to make time to see art museums or local galleries and markets whenever I travel to a new place.
In my work life as a staff attorney for an appellate court, I’m lucky that I’m able to do it part-time, which leaves a little bit of time for writing when my kids are in school on the days I’m not in the office. Truth be told, I wish I had more time to devote to the craft of writing, but I love my work as an attorney and also love being a mom, so it’s a balancing act. I know that my free time will increase as my kids get older and need me less, so I try to enjoy these moments when they are little. My two boys are currently 3 and 7 years old.
I love homes and architecture of all kinds, but Betsy Barrett’s lakeside mansion in THE CURIOSITIES really won my heart. Was it inspired by an actual home? What more can you tell us about it?
The Barrett mansion in the book is fictional, but it’s inspired by the homes in a historic neighborhood in Madison called Mansion Hill. A lot of the homes in the neighborhood are Victorian, with turrets and widow’s walks and other hidden nooks and crannies that have always captured my imagination when I bike or walk through the neighborhood.
There are many deep issues in THE CURIOSITIES—mental health, grief, miscarriage, addiction, recovery, and resilience. But then there’s friendship and creativity, the beauty of art. Can you talk about how they all intersect?
They all intersect in the book because, really, that’s life. It was important to me in this book to have characters that were relatable. Very rarely in real life do people have the luxury of dealing with one thing at a time. Life is complicated, and it’s not all one thing or another. Love and joy are mixed up alongside of loss and pain. The places where all of these different human emotions and experiences intersect is where art is born.
What’s obsessing you these days? It doesn’t have to be literary.
Right now I’m obsessed with biking. I did my first century ride last summer (100 miles in one day), and I joined a spinning gym to stay in cycling shape over the winter months. I commute to work on my bike year-round.
Susan, it’s been a delight. Thank you so much for taking the time. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?
I just want to say how thankful I am for the online community of readers and bloggers. We authors so appreciate all you do to help other people learn about our books.
For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE CURIOSITIES, please see:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Susan Gloss is the USA Today bestselling author of the novels VINTAGE and THE CURIOSITIES. 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 with her family in Madison, Wisconsin
You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites:
- Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter
- Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1
- Instagram: @LeslieLindsay1
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[Cover and author image courtesy of WilliamMorrow and used with permission. Artistic cover photo designed and photographed by Leslie Lindsay. Please follow on Instagram].