Recommended Read May 2016: THE LAST PAINTING OF SARA DE VOS

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Give Dominic Smith a Google and you’ll discover a few things. First: he bats left-handed. Second: he was selected by the New York Mets in the 1st round of the 2013 MLB June Amateur Draft. Third: there’s more than one Dominic Smith.

Google Dominic Smith author and you’ll find what you came for: an Austin-based author whose has been consistently hitting it out of the park (it’s baseball season, these puns are allowed) novel after novel. His first, The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre, was a finalist for the William Faulkner First Novel Prize. His second novel, The Beautiful Miscellaneous, received a starred review from Booklist, which praised, “This unusual, gorgeously written novel is filled with pleasures…Best of all, though, is the book’s invitation to wonder–about the imponderables of life and death, the nature of intelligence, and the ultimately inexplicable relationships of fathers and sons.” His third novel, Bright and Distant Shores, was selected as one of Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2011 and praised as, “…a gem of evocative historical fiction.”

bright and distant shores beautiful miscellaneous mercury visions

 

Smith has won the Dobie Paisano Fellowship from the Texas Institute of Letters, the Sherwood Anderson Fiction Prize, the Gulf Coast Fiction Prize, and now, he’s written yet another novel that we absolutely insist you read: The Last Painting of Sara de Vos.

Told from multiple perspectives that weave across centuries, The Last Painting traces the lives of its characters through the fate of a painting by Sara de Vos, a female artist who lived during the Dutch Golden Age. (The character is a fictional composite of several female painters from that period; their individual work and history, as Smith explains in the author’s note that introduces the book, is largely difficult to trace.)

From Manhattan in 1957, to Amsterdam in 1637, to Sydney in the year 2000, the unsettling winter scene of a barefoot young girl standing in the snow and peering at a pair of ice skaters has played a key role in shaping characters’ lives. Forged, admired, thieved, and, depending on who you ask, cursed, this single piece of art and the manner in which it changes hands spins a plot that is complicated, clever, quick, and wholly absorbing. Smith is deft with detail, establishing fast intimacy between his characters and readers. The descriptions of his two painters at work, Sara de Vos and her forger, Ellie Shipley, demonstrate a visceral sensitivity to art and the act of its creation that is particularly enjoyable to read. These scenes are romantic, real and impressively rendered. (One almost wonders if Smith might not have a side job recreating the texture and quality of antique canvas and gesso.)

The plot of The Last Painting, crisscrossing time and geography as it does to unite its unique characters, is satisfying to discover, so we won’t divulge too much here. Instead, we strongly recommend that you head out to your local bookstore and pick up a copy of The Last Painting of Sara de Vos (which, by the way, is already a New York Times Bestseller and a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice). This is historical fiction at its absolute finest and our official Texas Book Festival Recommended Read this month.

For more on Dominic Smith, the author, visit his webpage.

For more on Dominic Smith, the baseball player, visit his Wikipedia page. (Though we have to say, judging by some of the baseball blogs we read this afternoon, his prospects don’t look anywhere near as promising as does the likelihood that you will devour Smith the author’s new novel).