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Metropolitan Stories: A Novel (Paperback)
“Only someone who deeply loves and understands the Metropolitan Museum could deliver such madcap, funny, magical, tender, intimate fables and stories.” —Maira Kalman, artist and bestselling author of The Principles of Uncertainty
From a writer who worked at the Metropolitan Museum for more than twenty-five years, an enchanting novel that shows us the Met that the public doesn't see.
Hidden behind the Picassos and Vermeers, the Temple of Dendur and the American Wing, exists another world: the hallways and offices, conservation studios, storerooms, and cafeteria that are home to the museum's devoted and peculiar staff of 2,200 people—along with a few ghosts.
A surreal love letter to this private side of the Met, Metropolitan Stories unfolds in a series of amusing and poignant vignettes in which we discover larger-than-life characters, the downside of survival, and the powerful voices of the art itself. The result is a novel bursting with magic, humor, and energetic detail, but also a beautiful book about introspection, an ode to lives lived for art, ultimately building a powerful collage of human experience and the world of the imagination.
About the Author
Christine Coulson began her career at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1991 as a summer intern in the European Paintings Department. She returned in 1994 and, over the next 25 years, rose through the ranks of the Museum, working in the Development Office, the Director’s Office, and the Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts. In 2019 she left the Met to write full-time.
“A love letter to the monumental institution…[Metropolitan Stories] reads like a work by John Cheever…[Coulson] captured the spirit of the place and brought it magically to life.” —Wall Street Journal
“Coulson worked at the Met for 25 years…Now, she is writing in her own voice—and sometimes, in the voice of the artworks themselves. Her debut novel, Metropolitan Stories, goes behind the scenes at the museum. It’s a series of loosely connected stories about the people and objects that fill the galleries.” —NPR, “All Things Considered”
“This series of vignettes goes beyond what a casual visitor to the museum might see and offers a witty, enjoyable look at the elegant and sometimes unhinged world that exists within its walls.” —Town and Country, The Must-Read Books of Fall 2019
“A vivid, comedic, tender, and episodic debut…Coulson is emotionally keen, acerbically witty, fleetly imaginative, and lyrically resonant, her love for the Met, for humanness, and for beauty radiant on each surprising page.” —Booklist (starred review)
“[A] sly, whimsical debut…Those who think they know [the Met] will be beguiled by the look behind the scenes; those unfamiliar with it will be prompted to make its acquaintance.” —Publishers Weekly
“Delightful and sharply observed…Coulson’s erudition is worn lightly, and any worry that the Met’s self-importance has rubbed off on her is quickly banished by the author’s sly wit.” —New Criterion
“In this series of loosely linked surreal vignettes, Coulson takes us on a tour of the hidden world that tourists never see…an alternative guidebook to [the Met’s] rich treasures.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Written with elegance, wit, and a flair for comic genius, Metropolitan Stories describes the museum world as it is and as it strives to be. Coulson is a brilliant narrator of the fantastical and the all-too-plausible excesses of curators and museum directors. Her infectious sense of fun, her steady flow of insights into the human heart and its foibles, her wanton but beady-eyed attention to blind ambition, her passion for art itself, and most of all her deep sense of human character make this not only a delightful book, but also a deeply rewarding one. It marks the emergence of a major new talent.” —Andrew Solomon, author of The Noonday Demon and Far from the Tree
“Only someone who deeply loves and understands the Metropolitan Museum could deliver such madcap, funny, magical, tender, intimate fables and stories. We are swept away in the museum. Beauty abounds. Yearning too. The art literally comes to life. And it makes perfect sense.” —Maira Kalman, author of The Principles of Uncertainty
“With Metropolitan Stories, Christine Coulson gives us a book as kaleidoscopic and enchanting as the museum it brings so imaginatively to life. Witty, enthralling, and utterly original, this novel is a treasure.” —Caroline Weber, Pulitzer Prize finalist for Proust’s Duchess and author of Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution
“This book—which is about art but really about life, and the afterlife of art—is a wonder. Coulson reverses the currency between spectator and spectacle, and in the process explodes the idea of how art lives. She accordions time, history, art theory, and the sub-sub culture of a massive public institution into 245 pages of mischievous, heart-tugging, and surreal fancy. My visits to the Met will never be the same.” —Leanne Shapton, National Book Critics Circle Award–winning author of Swimming Studies
“Every painting, every tapestry, every fragile, gilded chair in the Met not only has a story, but gets to tell it, in Christine Coulson’s magical book. The history, humor, wonder, and—perhaps above all—beauty that Coulson absorbed in her twenty-five years at the museum burst forth from these pages, in her wry and imaginative tales of the people and objects that make the Met all that it is.” —Ariel Levy, staff writer for The New Yorker and New York Times bestselling author of The Rules Do Not Apply
“Stories define museums, and none more so than the Met. But it takes imagination as much as knowledge to recognize and appreciate them, as Christine Coulson’s enchanting novel reveals. Melding fact and fiction, art history and autobiography, her strange tales of mutually dependent artworks and caretakers beat with a pulse that oscillates between the real and the unreal, the ordinary and the extraordinary. More than any scholar or connoisseur, Coulson’s exquisite book captures the essence of the Met—its ability to delight, surprise, astonish, and, ultimately, to dream.” —Andrew Bolton, Curator in Charge, the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute