Metropolitan Stories, by Christine Coulson

All of the linked stories in Christine Coulson’s Metropolitan Stories are set at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, featuring various members of staff…and some of the art works themselves. The stories together build up a portrait of a magical place, one where entities (for lack of a better word) meditate on beauty, the passage of time, ambition, possession, and more.

While the Museum is an ever present character, there are only a few characters who show up in more than one story. Because of this, readers need to be patient and alert for clues about the few recurring characters. This book might be challenging for readers who prefer books where they can bond with characters. Normally I’m one of those. I was so enchanted by the works of art coming to life to try and walk after centuries on a plinth, or having a Muse contest, or an overpainted figure who decides to work in the staff cafeteria.

All that said, there were some stories with characters that really touched me. I loved the story about the young courier who discovers the museums very special tunnels and the one about the lamp lighters who are afraid of the dark, who end up taking shelter in the amazing Studiolo Gubbio.

The Studiolo Gubbio is a tromp l’oeil made entirely of different kinds of wood. (Image via Wikicommons)

There were also several stories that touch on the work it takes to keep the museum running. I’m not just talking about preserving paintings or repairing statues. So many people who work at the Met—and other museums—have to schmooze with the ultra rich to keep funds rolling in. Sometimes, this also means, er, misusing some of the artifacts (i.e. letting someone who feels generous play at being a knight with the suits of armor) so that those rich people feel “inspired” to donate. In order for the rest of us to be charmed and uplifted by the art on display, someone’s got to do the awful work of fund-raising.

I was charmed and uplifted myself after read Metropolitan Stories. I really wish that I had been to the Met to see the works mentioned in the flesh, so to speak. The Met has always been on my bucket list, but this book made me push a trip to New York up a few levels. This book is not for everyone, I’ll admit. But I think it would be a great choice for the art lovers among us as well as the people who fell in love with From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler when we were kids. After all, who wouldn’t want to hang out in a museum after hours?

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss, for review consideration.

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