|About the Book|
NORTHERN LIBERTIESA painter can imitate life through his art, but he can also imitate death.Thomas Eakins creates a masterpiece as anatomy labs proliferate, whores and winos vanish, antisepsis appears in hospitals, and the world visits PhiladelphiaMoreNORTHERN LIBERTIESA painter can imitate life through his art, but he can also imitate death.Thomas Eakins creates a masterpiece as anatomy labs proliferate, whores and winos vanish, antisepsis appears in hospitals, and the world visits Philadelphia for its 1876 exposition. His painting, The Gross Clinic, evokes this literary vision of beauty, murder, and redemption, blending impasto pigment, medicine, and passion.More on NORTHERN LIBERTIES:In 1876, Thomas Eakins talks his way into the operating theatre of the famous surgeon, Samuel Gross. As Eakins sketches, the patient’s mother, Abigail Doverlund, has a near seizure at the brutality of the operation. An anesthesiologist keeps her boy in a coma, true, but the filth and lack of sterility at the scene fill her with dread.A homicide detective, George Callahan, investigating a series of mysterious disappearances, watches the surgery, too. Soon he finds evidence leading him to an anatomy lab tucked in the basement of Jefferson Medical College.Abigail, widowed owner of a failing newspaper, struggles to keep her son alive. Her paper’s circulation grows, however, with both its coverage of the disappearances and her science editor’s muckraking articles on infections and the use--or lack of use--of new antiseptic techniques. Meanwhile Eakins, when not working feverishly to create his masterpiece, utilizes his med school connections to supply his art classes with anatomic sketching materials. Gross himself has a never-ending need for cadavers for his medical students.Abigail and George meet but have trouble acknowledging their mutual attraction, for each retains psychic wounds from the Great War. As their love grows, as Abigail’s reportage leads her from hospital to hospital and teaches her about microbial theory, the dark side of Eakins and Gross’s genius becomes clear. George, searching Northern Liberties, a downtrodden quarter of Philadelphia, unearths a macabre crime, but not until he comes close to losing his beloved Abigail.When scientific and artistic experts converge for the 1876 Centennial Exposition, multiple threads of love, art, medicine, and murder weave a cloth of beauty, passion, death, and redemption, a tapestry designed and modeled from that horribly wonderful painting itself, The Gross Clinic.KIRKUS REVIEWS WROTE:Fine art, ideological battles over surgical procedure, wartime trauma and murder collide in Vanstrum’s smartly written historical fiction...the novel centers on the creation of Thomas Eakins’ painting The Gross Clinic, which, although considered an American masterwork today, was highly controversial at the time because of its graphic nature...Despite the often-salacious material that weaves in copious amounts of sex and violence, Vanstrum avoids being exploitative in a character-rich narrative that paints heroes and villains alike with nuance and care. In keeping with the tenor of the times, Vanstrum also introduces issues of the day through background detail and character discussion, such as the book-long debate over the role of cleanliness in the surgical arena and the public’s increasing awareness of Darwin’s writings. More impressively, he integrates the intellectual content in a way that furthers the plot, which never sags.Transitions between the various threads are handled smoothly, and none of the characters are shortchanged in the process. Although some readers may object to the bit of artistic license Vanstrum employs in his depiction of historical figures—particularly Eakins—his evenhandedness and creativity keep even negative characters, such as the pimp Slam Perkins, sympathetic.