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Clara and Mr. Tiffany - Susan Vreeland I've just finished the book "Clara and Mr. Tiffany." However, I confusedly picked it up assuming that it was by the author of "Girl With a Pearl Earring" and "The Virgin Blue." Rather, it is the author of "Girl in Hyacinth Blue" and "The Passion of Artemisia," which I've also read. I keep confusing Tracy Chevalier and Susan Vreeland. Somewhat similar topics and titles, but I have to admit I like Tracy Chevalier a lot better as a writer. I feel very similarly about "Clara and Mr. Tiffany" as I did about "The Passion of Artemisia" - the topic is something I'm particularly interested in, so I'm willing to read the book just for that, but the writing doesn't thrill me. I feel like the author did exhaustive research on her historical characters and their time period - and then feels the need to stick every little detail that she's learned into the book, even when it interrupts the flow of the story. The details that interest her are mostly those that we know today, so the reader is constantly interrupted by tidbits such as that "America the Beautiful" is a new song, that the character feels that the poem just written for the Statue of Liberty's pedestal will one day be well-known, or that the music wafting out of a jazz club is a (still well-known) certain song. The thing is, it doesn't smoothly work - because the things that are of significance to people's daily lives are very rarely those that make history. A person is just as likely to be grieved for the death of a poet who will soon be forgotten to history as that of Walt Whitman, or to love a song which will be soon regarded as insignificant. (And, when facing a deep personal crisis, a person is unlikely to stop in front of a jazz club to mention what the song playing is.) A few relevant historical details help set time and place, but this is like an inundation. And while Clara comes vividly to life as an intriguing and vibrant character, too many of the minor characters seem to exist only as Examples of Types of People Who Lived in 19th-Century New York.
Still, I love the Tiffany aesthetic enough that I felt the book was worth reading - the details of the creative process and the practicalities of the craft involved in the workshop are fascinating, as are the financial, personal and social issues of the company, which Vreeland illuminates well.