Picks and Pans Review: The Forest Lover

updated 02/09/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/09/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

NOVEL

by Susan Vreeland

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Vreeland, whose first novel Girl in Hyacinth Blue explored the back-story of a Vermeer painting, this time retraces the steps of the Canadian painter Emily Carr, one of the most influential women artists of the early 20th century. Vreeland takes us with Carr to Paris, where she studied the modernist Fauve painters such as Matisse, and then into Canada's wilderness. Carr was on a quest to paint the native tribes' totem poles before they were all destroyed and became one of the few white women allowed a glimpse of the tribes' inner lives.

It's an interesting tale that ambles along as pleasantly as a forest path Carr herself might have strode, though one with few ups and downs. More drama and a sharper eye toward reality could have made an enjoyable book gripping. As Vreeland imagines Carr saying in the book, artists carry the burden of "proving [their] talent to people who have none. Stuffed-shirted critics, yakety-yakking...."

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