A strange museum, an even stranger curator, the deceased artist who haunts him, and the mystery surrounding the museum founders’ daughter, lost at sea as a child . . . The Ambrose J. and Vivian T. Seagrave Museum of 20th Century American Art is by turns a dark comedy, a ghost story, a romance, a whodunit, a family saga, and an exhibition catalog.
Through museum exhibit labels, as well as the interior musings of an elderly visitor wandering through its galleries, the novel’s numerous dramas gradually unfold. We learn of the powerful Seagrave family’s tragic loss of their daughter, the suspicious circumstances surrounding her disappearance during a violent storm, and of the motley conclave of artists (some accomplished, some atrocious) who frequented the Seagrave estate, producing eclectic bodies of work that betray the artists’ own obsessions, losses, and peculiarities. We learn about the curator’s rise to power, his love affair with a deeply troubled ghost—and when a first-time visitor to the museum discovers unexpected connections between the works on exhibit and her painful past, we are plunged into a meditation on the nature of perception, fabrication, memory, and time.