One Woman Show: A Novel (Hardcover)
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A sly and stylish novel—remarkably told through museum wall labels—about a twentieth-century woman who transforms herself from a precious object into an unforgettable protagonist.
Author Christine Coulson spent twenty-five years writing for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Her final project was to write wall labels for the museum’s new British Galleries. During that time, she dreamt of using The Met’s strict label format to describe people as intricate works of art. The result is this bullet of a novel that imagines a privileged twentieth-century woman as an artifact—an object prized, collected, and critiqued. One Woman Show revolves around the life of Kitty Whitaker as she is defined by her potential for display and moved from collection to collection through multiple marriages. Coulson precisely distills each stage of this sprawling life, every brief snapshot in time a wry reflection on womanhood, ownership, value, and power.
Described with poignancy and humor over the course of a century, Kitty emerges as an eccentric heroine who disrupts her porcelain life with both major force and minor transgressions. As human foibles propel each delicately crafted text, Coulson’s playful reversal on our interaction with art ultimately questions who really gets to tell our stories.
About the Author
Christine Coulson spent twenty-five years writing for The Metropolitan Museum of Art and left as Senior Writer in 2019. Her debut novel about the museum, Metropolitan Stories, was a national bestseller and is followed by One Woman Show.
“A delight! This novel’s formal audacity—a book told in fragments culled from a museum’s walls—is an impressive feat of imagination. One Woman Show is a moving story of privilege, womanhood, and the sweep of the twentieth century told through a single American life. I loved this book.”
—Rumaan Alam, author of Leave the World Behind
“One Woman Show is a wildly original, always compelling novel masquerading as a catalogue raisonée of the heart. Christine Coulson is the wise and witty curator of this bravura piece of performance art. I challenge you not to devour it in one sitting.”
—John Guare, author of The House of Blue Leaves and Six Degrees of Separation.
“Brilliant. Christine Coulson’s tragicomedy of manners is an immense delight. Condensed into its witty format is the story of a life, a life like some I have known and others about which I have read. Coulson captures her character’s gentle decline with the precision of Edith Wharton and evokes the eras she traverses with such clarity, even wisdom, describing a woman’s changing (or unchanging) role in the world with an acuity that left this reader astonished time and again.”
—Andrew Solomon, author of The Noonday Demon and Far from the Tree
“Coulson’s language is perfection. One Woman Show is heartbreaking and funny and comes together like a ballad. I love the pages of voices, like voices in the galleries, and so many moments made me laugh. Truly masterful and patient and insane, in the best way.”
—Leanne Shapton, National Book Critics Circle Award–winning author of Swimming Studies
“Strange, biting, tender, and heartbreaking in turns. AND all at once. One Woman Show is an incredibly complicated story to pull off. And Christine Coulson does it. I read it in one fell swoop. It is brilliant.”
—Maira Kalman, author of Women Holding Things
Praise for Metropolitan Studies
“A love letter to the monumental institution . . . Metropolitan Stories reads like a work by John Cheever. . . . Coulson captured the spirit of the place and brought it magically to life.”
—Wall Street Journal
“Coulson worked at the Met for 25 years. . . . Now, she is writing in her own voice—and sometimes, in the voice of the artworks themselves. Her debut novel, Metropolitan Stories, goes goes behind the scenes at the museum. It’s a series of loosely connected stories about the people and objects that fill the galleries.”
—NPR, “All Things Considered”
“This series of vignettes goes beyond what a casual visitor to the museum might see and offers a witty, enjoyable look at the elegant and sometimes unhinged world that exists within its walls.”
—Town and Country, The Must-Read Books of Fall 2019
“A vivid, comedic, tender, and episodic debut . . . Coulson is emotionally keen, acerbically witty, fleetly imaginative, and lyrically resonant, her love for the Met, for humanness, and for beauty radiant on each surprising page.”
—Booklist (starred review)
“A sly, whimsical debut . . . Those who think they know the Met will be beguiled by the look behind the scenes; those unfamiliar with it will be prompted to make its acquaintance.”
“Delightful and sharply observed . . . Coulson’s erudition is worn lightly, and any worry that the Met’s self-importance has rubbed off on her is quickly banished by the author’s sly wit.”
“In this series of loosely linked surreal vignettes, Coulson takes us on a tour of the hidden world that tourists never see. . . . An alternative guidebook to the Met’s rich treasures.”