A Fine Imitation

Written by Amber Brock
Review by Jo Haraf

Co-ed Vera Longacre is the epitome of an old money New York heiress: intelligent, beautiful, reserved, and above all a compliant daughter—until she meets Bea Stillman. A talented painter with debatable morals, Bea encourages Vera to take risks, promising to keep her friend’s secrets if Vera will keep hers. After one of Bea’s schemes goes awry, Vera must choose between her scandalous friend and her predictable family.

A Fine Imitation alternates between Vera’s time at Vassar College in 1913 and her marriage a decade later. The brief chapters flash brightly, not unlike the martinis Vera guzzles to numb herself against her loveless marriage—a union whose wealth allows her to acquire the paintings and statues she treasures while her absent husband buys jewelry for others.

Inspired by photographs of his work, Vera selects Frenchman Emil Hallan to paint a mural for her posh Manhattan apartment building. The secretive auburn-haired artist excites Vera physically and intellectually. Once again, she must choose between desire and duty. (For those who care about such things, the novel’s sex scenes are chaste and primarily off the page.)

Brock’s introspective characters, satisfying sub-plots, and unexpected—but justified—twists elevate the novel from a period romance to a suspenseful peek inside high society’s gilded cage. Vera herself might describe A Fine Imitation’s appeal the same way she explains her love of art: “it’s like a window into someone’s head. The only chance we have to see the world through someone else’s eyes. A glimpse of another time, another place.”