On the surface of things Nadia Orsini’s life appears comfortable and unremarkable – Ivy League educated, happily married to a doctor, a mother of three, and a moderately successful photographer. But not all is as it seems. Nadia has been telling lies. Nobody, not even her family, knows about her past, her dark dealings with a U.S. senator, or the scandal she was caught up in surrounding his young son. Then, Nadia receives a disturbing package in the mail and her mask threatens to disintegrate, exposing a horrifying secret. She realizes someone is spying on her, has broken in to her studio and rummaged through her hidden safe. If she can’t stop them, she will lose her husband, family, suburban home – and the precarious hold on her own singular identity. Meanwhile, from a prison cell in the mountains, a convicted felon named Christopher Benedict is hatching a plot. The leader of a shadowy group of Aktionists, he writes daily to a woman known only as “Jenny X.” Lisa Dierbeck’s startling first novel, One Pill Makes You Smaller, gave an unflinching, raw account of a relationship between a charismatic adult man and an underage girl. Set in the gritty art world of the 70s, its surprising humor, honesty and eroticism drew acclaim from numerous publications, including The Boston Globe, The Los Angeles Times, O (the Oprah magazine), Publisher’s Weekly and The New York Times Book Review, which named it a Notable Book of 2003.
It’s where you sit down that determines everything in life.
One Vacant Chair is a hilarious and gripping novel by New York Times Notable Book of the Year author Joe Coomer, whom the Washington Times calls “a marvelously creative comic writer.”
As the owner of several antique stores in Texas, Joe Coomer has an affinity for old chairs. So much so that the main character of his latest novel, Aunt Edna, paints portraits of them. Not people in chairs, just chairs. At the funeral of Grandma Hutton—whom Edna has cared for through an agonizingly long and vague illness—Sarah begins helping her aunt clean up the last of a life. This includes honoring Grandma’s wish to have her ashes scattered in Scotland—although she had never left the state of Texas.
“We were two fat women, eighteen years apart, a chair artist and a designer of Christmas ornaments, who only knew we had troubles and a hot summer to get through,” says Sarah. But as it turns out, there is a great deal more to her quirky aunt’s troubles than Sarah could possibly imagine. As the novel turns from the oppressive heat of Texas to the cool, misty beauty of Scotland, she learns of her Aunt Edna’s remarkable secret life and comes to fully understand the fragile business of living and even dying.
Cover image adapted from a photo by Marya @emdot.