A novel about a celebrated woman photographer. To the world, Maude Coffin Pratt is her work -- and vice versa. Since the l920s, her pioneering techniques and uncanny gift for stripping the masks from the eminent subjects who come before her lens have firmly established her legend. Now seventy, Maude plays her tough-minded, eccentric character to the hilt for the benefit of a fawning public, in particular the ambitious young archivist, Frank Fusco, who installs himself in her Cape Code home to prepare a Pratt retrospective.
A uniquely fulfilled life, it would seem. But as Frank rummages through fifty years’ accumulation of photographs, the resurrected images take Maude through her past and bring into painfully sharp focus the artist’s conviction that her work and fame represent personal failure, her outward life a long self-deception. Her true self lives only in the “picture palace” of her mind and memory, and at its heart is a piercing and obsessive secret: the incestuous passion which first drove her to excel and which led, inevitably, to tragedy.
Maude’s hidden story unfolds in many places -- from Provincetown to Florida, New York to London -- and on many levels of perception. The subsidiary cast includes the notables of twentieth-century photography as well as other real-life luminaries, among them D.H. Lawrence, Robert Frost, Graham Greene, Patton, Hemingway and Picasso.