cover image Peggy


Rebecca Godfrey, with Leslie Jamison. Random House, $29 (384p) ISBN 978-0-385-53828-2

This magnificent posthumous novel from Godfrey (Under the Bridge), completed after her death in 2022 by Jamison, concerns the life of heiress and arts patron Peggy Guggenheim. Following her father’s death on the Titanic (a loss compounded by the embarrassing public knowledge that he was accompanied on the voyage by his mistress), Peggy grows increasingly interested in modern art, a passion she shared with her father. She escapes the confines of New York society for Paris in 1920, an invitation from artist Laurence Vail having “put a face on my hope” for a new life. Godfrey covers Peggy’s notable acquisitions and rescue of important modern artworks on the eve of Nazi occupation, and she peppers in appearances from dozens of Peggy’s real-life friends, lovers, and colleagues, including Man Ray, Djuna Barnes, and Emma Goldman. The heart of the novel, though, lies in Godfrey’s depiction of her subject’s evolving mindset. In lively first-person narration, Godfrey captures Peggy’s constant wavering between boldness and self-doubt, between the pull of conventional motherhood and the longing to be free. Looking back on her life at 60, Peggy proudly claims her role in art history: “I could see the start of a new world.... I didn’t make that world. But I helped it survive.” Readers will be won over by Godfrey’s incandescent portrait of a singular woman. Agent: Christy Fletcher, UTA. (Aug.)