I try not to read reviews for a book I write about on this blog until after I’m done with the book, but I accidentally saw something that Parade wrote about B.A. Shapiro’s The Art Forger. The magazine called it a “literary thriller.”

Thriller? Yes. But literary? No. Sure, it makes for a servicable caper – a young painter shunned by the art world who is offered the chance to copy a Degas that had been stolen in the 1990 Boston art heist (the heist is fact; the Degas fiction). But any book that uses the word “laboriously” is not literary.

I tripped up on the writing. It’s just not good. The novel is told in present tense. Adverbs are ripe. Shaprio over describes everything, which is tedious to the point of maddening when describing how to forge a painting. I was very tempted to pick up my red pen and start slashing, but it just wasn’t worth it after a while because I’d slash everywhere. The writing didn’t pass my meter test: I would never turn in an article written like this. I’d look like a lazy writer.

If The Art Forger had been labeled a straight thriller or mystery or pulp novel, I don’t think I’d be as annoyed. But I feel the same way as I did about Water for Elephants: They’re both books dressed up to look like more than they are – in the latter’s case, a romance dressed as a literary novel. I’d much rather read a genre book with spectacular writing, like an Eloisa James romance, than something the other way around.

I picked this up at the Cherry Hill Wegmans, which used to have a fine book section for a grocery store, but space for books has been been cut to about a quarter of the original section’s size. The selection wasn’t great and I needed a book. Next up is one I chose on purpose, not because it looked like the best of limited options.

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Jen Miller

Jen Miller

Jen A. Miller is a an author and freelance writer. Her memoir, Running a Love Story, was a Philadelphia Inquirer best book of the year. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, SELF, Buzzfeed and the Guardian, among others.

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