Ever since she pulled a drawing kit from a grab bag on her tenth birthday, Lily Wilk knew she was destined to be an artist. Now her work is in demand around her small Massachusetts town, where she makes her living painting fire hydrants, lettering diplomas, and applying “Gulls” and “Buoys” to restaurant bathroom doors. But when supermarket heiress Mary Ziemba commissions her to paint a family portrait, Lily senses her lifelong dream of creating a memorable masterpiece is finally within her grasp.
Shea returns for the third time to the small-town Massachusetts she captured so well in “Selling the Lite of Heaven” and “Hoopi Shoopi Donna” for this sentimental yet satisfying tale of dreams realized in peculiar ways. Whe she was 10, Lily Wilk pulled an art kit out of a grab bag and knew she has found her “true occupation.” Twenty nine years later, Lily is making her living as an artist, though not in the way she once imagined. Kept busy by myriad mundane tasks, she draws children’s caricatures at parties, paints signs for rest rooms and fire hydrants and occasionally exhibits her real art work at the post office and local festivals. Still, she remains certain that she is destined for greater things. One day opportunity knocks in the form of Mary Ziemba, owner of a supermarket chain and the richest woman in town, who commissions Lily to paint a portrait of her fmily, one that will depict each member “at whatever was the best point in their lives.” As the project unfolds, Lily – whose own immediate family, ex-husband and stepson have recently scattered across the globe – reflects more and more on the true nature of human relations. She lovingly renders Lily’s family and friends, among them a coupon-addicted uncle and his girlfriend whose hobby is writing to the survivors of famous dead people, with the same affectionate brushstrokes she employs to describe her protagonist’s beloved art. By the time it becomes clear to Lily that family is as much created as it is inherited, readers may well count themselves lucky to have gained vicarious admission to her colorful circle.
© Copyright Publisher’s Weekly.
Adding ”Lily of the Valley” to her two earlier books, Suzanne Strempek Shea (”Hoopi Shoopi Donna,” ”Selling the Lite of Heaven”) has surely become the unofficial official novelist of central Massachusetts. She has a distinctive voice – comic, bittersweet, a bit old-fashioned – and a distinctive sense of place, rooted in the church- and family-centered Polish neighborhoods of the shabby industrial towns west of Worcester and east of the Berkshires. Here her heroine is Lily Wilk, an artist whose practical bent and absence of ambition have left her only vaguely dissatisfied with the life of sign painting and pet portraits to which she has resigned herself. Mourning the breakup of her marriage and her parents’ defection to Florida, Lily is feeling blue, until she receives a surprising commission from a rich old woman, the self-made supermarket queen of the Connecticut Valley, who wants her to paint a family portrait from a collection of photographs. Missing her own family terribly, Lily fails to note the implications of this odd request. Although the route is unexpected, Lily does manage to produce a painting that is the talk of the town, while also recalling what we’re supposed to do when life hands us lemons. In her novels the author has quietly created a quirky American version of English village fiction, wry and closely observed. Though her heroines’ horizons may be narrow, their sorrows and triumphs are no less affecting for being confined to the most prosaic of hopes and the most prosaic of places.
© Copyright Boston Globe.
The story of a small-town Massachusetts girl with big-city ambitions, from the author of Hoopi Shoopi Donna (1996), etc. Most people have the tenor of their dreams pretty well established by the time they’re ten, and Lily Wilk is no exception. Someday, she vows, I will make something that people will stand in line for hours just to look at and study and be struck by. Then, satisfied beyond belief, they will travel all the way home in stunned silence, reflecting how they have been changed in some vital way by the sight of a thing made by my own right hand. Lilys obsession with creating a great work of art began almost by chance, when she picked a drawing set out of a grab-bag on her tenth birthday. From that day forward, Lily has drawn and painted everything she can get her hands on: tablecloths, fire hydrants, fingernails, storefront signs, dartboards, etc. Shes also done more conventional paintings and drawings, but her dreams of fame have remained largely dormant. Then, however, shes approached by a prosperous local businesswoman who asks her to paint a family portrait and she senses that this may be her chance. Mary Ziemba, Lilys patron, is the owner of a large chain of supermarkets who lives a deceptively simple life in spite of her great fortune. Instead of arranging a sitting, she provides Lily with photographs of the people she wants included in the painting, all of them her loved ones if not exactly her family in the strictest sense of the word. In the process of fitting together literally all the pieces of Mary’s life on a canvas, Lily begins to understand better the nature of her own feelings toward family and friends and eventually comes to a new understanding of herself. A bit mawkish but told with a freshness and real grace that make up for its sentimentality.
© Copyright Kirkus Associates.