A Fine Imitation: Amber Brock
Sometimes people go through life going through the motions and not really aware of their surroundings, the events that occur because they have created a world that mirrors what they think they want and need. Artists paint masterpieces and others try and replicate them thinking that the public or a noted dealer will not notice the slightest difference from the real one. There are others that create their own world filled with what they think the person they married or dates should be but in reality that are living a lie everyday of their life. Imitations are fakes, forgeries, phony reproductions of the real think. Life can be the same if we decide to pretend that everything we do is fine; that the person we are married to is faithful to our marriage and that by design you choose to ignore the red flags that will change it all.
Vera enters our lives as readers get to meet her and her husband Arthur in the year 1923. But, the author flashes back to ten years before where we meet her and Bea attending Vassar. Vera is more refined, subdued and actually wants to attend class to learn unnoticed. Her mother is overpowering, critical and always has the life planned out like a blueprint for a new building. Her mother comes to see her at Vassar and she is distraught to say the least knowing that her freedom to go with Bea and her new found friends would be curtailed. Even the way her mother speaks to Bea you realize that she feels she is beneath her and Vera needs to pick her friends wisely. Discussing Arthur as if he was an acquisition that would prove profitable to her if she accepts his proposal and drops out of college seems a stilted way to decide whether to accept or decline. Her parents think this would be a suitable match and that she should accept but Vera met Cliff and he excites her and makes her feel whole. In the present or 1923 we learn more about their marriage, the fact they are distant and drifting apart and each time Vera wants quality time with Arthur he either calls the maid or butler to say he won’t make it, has to travel on business or is working late. It’s amazing that she does not question him at all or think he might be having an affair. At times he treats her as a temporary diversion but things just might be about to change as the community she lives in wants to hire an artist to paint a mural by the pool house. Emil Hallon is quite unique, taken with Vera and although Ida and Carolyn and the other women want his attention and everyone in the complex wants and does host a welcoming party, he seems to be drawn to Vera. Learning that she took art in college and has knowledge of paintings is one reason. The other we learn when she goes to a studio to see a painting for her mother and realizes from one specific detail that it is an imitation just like part of her life. Is her marriage solid? Why do we get the feeling that Hallon is after more than her knowledge or art?
When Arthur stands her up at dinner in a fine restaurant how does Hallon know that she is alone and why does she leave with him and attend a club rather than stay for dinner?
In the past we learn more about Bea, her brashness and her rebellious quality as she meets Vera’s mother and embarrasses not only herself but also Vera but neither seems to bother by it until something happens that changes it all. In the present we meet Bea who turns out to be the secretary for the art seller that she has come to see for her mother. As you get to know Hallon you wonder whether he is really going to create the mural or does he have some other reason for accepting the commission?
Vera attending Vassar and her friendship with Bea Stillman brought her to disaster. Bored and dealing with a husband who is absent even when present she finds herself intertwined with Emil Hallon a paint that changes her world but not for the better. The author introduces us to a penthouse at The Angelus the most sought after address on Park Avenue. Smart, at times naïve, yet astute in other respects, Vera is born and bred to handle the world of dinners, champagne events while her evenings are desolate and lonely. Her staff provides concern for her but in a limited way as her husband seems to be married by absenteeism. Emil Hallan arrives to paint a mural above the complexes subterranean pool but no one is allowed in this area until it’s complete. With his own paid for quarters, staff and more the French artist moves into the building and hides what is supposed to be a masterpiece of art to match the photos that he sent that got him hired. But, Vera want so keep her life to herself but he probes like a doctor or dentist probes a sore or bad tooth to find out what is causing the pain. Loneliness can cause many to do things they would normally never fathom. She has secrets as does Hallon but will these secrets destroy lives? Bea is smart but when she delves into her past she will learn and see when presented with a piece of art created by Bea that she is a first class forger and a talented one leaving their friendship on the fringe of disaster and Vera made to feel like a pariah to those in her social group. The story unfolds even more when we are reminded that Bea forged letters from both her and Vera giving them parental permission to leave school for a weekend trip. The lies and deceits become evident but when Vera’s mother insists that she denies having Bea write these letters will she come clean with the school or will she stand by what her mother requests? The life of those that consider themselves elite and privileged have the capabilities of hiding truths or their worlds can easily come tumbling down too.
Alone in a restaurant Vera forgets about Arthur and then asks Hallon to come to her penthouse apartment and gives the staff off the night. Things will spiral out of control because she has fallen into the wiles of Hallon not knowing anything about his background and when asked by anyone refusing to answer or skirting the issue. Gossip flies at their dinner parties and since Hallon won’t come clean with his past because it matters to those living in this complex and breeding is what makes the person and money too, they decide to hire a private investigator. Upon hearing this Vera enlists his help in her own way too in order to find out about Hallon first and hide her intimate friendship with him. We learn about a man named Fleming who is the one who tried to sell Vera’s mother the forgery but was arrested but what part did Bea play as the author shifts to the past again and we read a letter Bea sent to Vera bearing her soul. The time periods are different but the end results mesh into one when Vera learns the truth behind Hallon’s lies and deceits and just what part Bea played and Fleming in the forgery that they wanted to sell to her mother. Things fall into place but not in the way she thinks when someone learns of her indiscretion and she has a decision to make that will change her life? Will she remain in a loveless marriage with Arthur? Will she decide to take a different route and give up the luxuries in life and her own home? How will Vera finally get the freedom to be herself and be free? Will she leave and give it all up or will she decide to remain in a life that most would think is A FINE IMITATION of reality?
Fran Lewis: Just reviews/MJ magazine