The Summer She Was Under Water
By Jen Michalski (Queen’s Ferry Press)
Almost instantly, we can tell that Sam, the main character in local author Jen Michalski’s latest novel, is harboring a secret. We feel her anxiety as she ventures to her blue-collar Baltimore family’s summer house, where the tension between her, her parents, and her mostly absent brother, Steve, hangs in the air like the ever-present cigarette smoke. Though at first we aren’t given many clues about the secret, we sense how much it’s weighing on her. It is the book’s second narrative that illuminates Sam’s story—albeit in a bizarre, magical realism sort of way. This companion narrative is a story Sam herself has written, and tells of a man who discovers that he’s pregnant. (It doesn’t take much insight to infer that he, too, might be hiding something.) Through Michalski’s unusual but effective structure and her insightful and deeply personal writing, we begin to understand just how much strength it takes for a person to peel back the layers of a troubled past—and how invaluable that self-knowledge is at the end of that journey.
Sacred and Stolen: Confessions of a Museum Director
By Gary Vikan (SelectBooks)
There’s a certain mystique to the hallowed galleries of a museum. Even though you marvel at the creativity and genius behind the paintings, sculptures, and antiquities, it’s also easy to wonder, “Exactly how did this end up here, in front of me?” Gary Vikan, who was director of The Walters Art Museum for nearly 20 years, draws back the curtain on the often shocking, humorous, and intriguing inner workings of the art world—the obsessive collectors, shady art dealers, inside thefts, and discovered forgeries. Vikan is a specialist in Byzantine art, and he details how he has had to reconcile his passion for assembling these sacred works with the knowledge that some are stolen. He also delves into his interactions in international art theft cases, including his role in the return of a Renoir that was missing from The Baltimore Museum of Art for more than 60 years. His book is by no means a stuffy, self-promoting autobiography, but rather an enlightening, at times hilarious tour through a world that, despite appearances, has more than its share of intrigue.