17 stories inspired by great American paintings

  • This cover image released by Pegasus Books shows "From Sea to Stormy Sea: 17 Stories Inspired by Great American Paintings ," edited by Lawrence Block. (Pegasus Books via AP)

    This cover image released by Pegasus Books shows "From Sea to Stormy Sea: 17 Stories Inspired by Great American Paintings ," edited by Lawrence Block. (Pegasus Books via AP) Associated Press

 
 
Updated 12/2/2019 1:59 PM

'œFrom Sea to Stormy Sea: 17 Stories Inspired by Great American Paintings,' Pegasus Books, edited by Lawrence Block

Writers take their inspiration from a variety of sources: an unforgettable face, overheard conversation or perhaps, a painting.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The well-known crime writer Lawrence Block has parlayed that last scenario into two volumes of short stories, the first inspired by works of Edward Hopper and the second, favorite paintings of his authors.

Now he has come out with a third, 'œFrom Sea to Stormy Sea,' an anthology of 17 stories that riff exclusively on American paintings, from Robert Henri's portrait of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney to Andy Warhol's mural for the 1964 World's Fair, 'œThirteen Most Wanted Men,' and Mark Rothko's shimmering 'œNumber 14.'

Since the writers he's chosen tend to specialize in crime and genre fiction, the stories are chock-full of loners, losers and cynics who get to say snappy lines like, 'œSex. Religion. Dining out. Sooner or later, some human being is going to make you regret participating in any or all of the above.' (Spoken by the enterprising heroine of Jan Burke's 'œSuperficial Injuries.')

One of the very best is 'œBaptism in Kansas' by detective writer Sara Paretsky, who uses the 1928 John Steuart Curry painting of the same name to conjure up a vivid portrait of the hardscrabble lives of white farmers in Kansas in the early 1900s, their religious revivals, as depicted in the artwork, and racist campaigns to get rid of the Native American population.

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Other standouts include 'œThe Man From Hard Rock Mountain,' a post-apocalyptic fantasy by Jerome Charyn based on the eerie Rockwell Kent engraving, 'œTwilight of Man,' and the deliciously noir 'œOn Little Terry Road' by Tom Franklin and 'œGet Him' by Micah Nathan, inspired by paintings of the lesser known artists John Hull and Daniel Morper.

Not all the stories work, but enough do to make it worth it. Admirers of Winslow Homer's stormy seascapes will likely enjoy 'œAdrift off the Diamond Shoals,' by Brendan DuBois, which pivots on a writer seeking revenge on a sleazy real estate developer who wants to knock down his family's modest house on North Carolina's Outer Banks to put up a 'œcapitalist castle.'

Then there's the nasty little confection 'œGarnets' by the crime writer Christa Faust, who has moonlighted as a professional dominatrix. It's a chilling tale of a chance meeting between two women who give new meaning to the term 'œfemme fatale.' Her inspiration is Helen Frankenthaler's 'œAdirondacks,' whose swirls of red paint could make you think of a brilliant sunset - or a bloody corpse.

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