A Nearly Perfect Copy
Elmira Howells is a successful art curator at Tinsley’s, a posh Manhattan auction center. She has the “eye,” a way of “seeing through a painting or drawing, or gathering in an instant its myriad qualities, good or bad, and forming an almost infallible judgment.” You had to be born with it, and Elm’s brilliant career depends on this intuitive gift.
She had been on vacation two years earlier in Thailand when a tsunami swept her eight-year-old son, Ronan, out to sea. Horror-stricken and obsessive with each memory of her boy, she and her husband grieve separately and together and continue life with their daughter, Moira. However, a chance conversation at a party about cloning a beloved dog begins her compelling journey. She remembers Ronan’s sweetness through his lifetime, and longs desperately to have him back. She would give anything to hold him one more time.
"The questions that Allison Amend raise in A NEARLY PERFECT COPY could seem peculiar to the sophisticated, elite world of art, art sales and art valuations... But, very cleverly, Amend moves these questions and their ambiguous answers to the world of science and cloning, and also encourages readers to ask their own questions."
The idea of cloning has fascinated our world ever since Dolly came on the scene in 1996, and its proponents make logical sense: “many things we do are illegal, this is merely a crime without victims. The legal prohibition against cloning hinges on the fear of its abuse. Why is it a crime to want your child back? Who does it hurt when we succeed?” This persuasive but criminal argument wracks Elm’s being. Her decisions made over the course of the next several months are surprising, controversial and irreversible.
On the other side of the Atlantic is Gabriel Connois, a Spanish painter trying to break into the exclusive Parisian art scene. His story alternates chapters with Elm’s; he, too, is 42 years old, an age in the art world to have made a name for himself. However, he simply cannot fit in. His surname separates him --- his great-great grandfather was the famousMarcel Connois, a brilliant artist. Gabriel’s native language is also a barrier in his dealings with the people who could help his career along: the French, the Americans and the Germans. He does not exert himself enough to pay attention, even though he is talented and perceptive in other areas of his life. He manages to alienate almost everyone, and he remains totally unsympathetic. For example, after listening to a quarrel between two good friends, he finds himself “shut out, even from a conversation he himself instigated.”
Gabriel’s self-absorption and isolation intensify over the months, but he is still offered opportunities to make money and to impress a classy girlfriend. He finds truth, or a semblance of it, with the understanding that the world runs on favors. “This was how the art world worked. How the world worked, in fact.” His discontent with his art, his life, and his integrity cannot change easily. His decisions, in tandem with Elm’s, are less surprising but equally irreversible.
The questions that Allison Amend raise in A NEARLY PERFECT COPY could seem peculiar to the sophisticated, elite world of art, art sales and art valuations: Who are the artists? Who are the forgers? Is perfection essential? But, very cleverly, Amend moves these questions and their ambiguous answers to the world of science and cloning, and also encourages readers to ask their own questions. Is it forgery to take responsibility for another’s life? Or is it artistry? Her ironic title may be a worthy response.
This is a novel of potential rebirth through artificial means --- Elm’s through the hope of cloning and Gabriel’s through the use of copying. The hard words in the definition are “potential” and “artificial” because we cannot live in potentials or be ultimately happy with artificial. We Americans need the real, the here, the now. Readers may extend this analysis to the world at large, and we may see that daring and risk-taking on the pages of a novel could very well fall flat when taken on our own.
Reviewed by Jane Krebs on April 19, 2013
A Nearly Perfect Copy
- Publication Date: January 28, 2014
- Genres: Fiction
- Paperback: 304 pages
- Publisher: Anchor
- ISBN-10: 0345803140
- ISBN-13: 9780345803146