Courtney Maum’s Costalegre May Be Your Clutch Late-Breaking Summer Read
Inspired by real-life events -- being those of eccentric, wildly wealthy art collector Peggy Guggenheim and her daughter, Pegeen -- but given the fanciful fictionalization those real-life events frankly deserve, Courtney Maum’s Costalegre (Tin House) satisfies beach read criteria you didn’t even know were on the menu: It’s breezy, of course, delightfully so, but it’s also smart as hell, loopy in a way that maybe we’ve forgotten to demand from beach reads, and also has breadcrumbs for 20th Century art lovers that’ll make for great Wikipedia hunting once your phone dries out.
Penned in the erudite and deeply witty voice of Lara, Pegeen’s 15-year-old fictional stand-in, Courtney Maum chronicles mother and daughter fleeing the Nazis at the dawn of WWII to the Mexican village of Costalegre. Thing is, they’ve brought an art collection, a piano, and as many surrealist artists as they could fit on their (rather large) chartered private boat. Chaos ensues, relentlessly so, as mother performs and so do the artists in kind, with each one vying to be the biggest, er, dada. Meanwhile, though, Lara simply wants a shred of normalcy in the center of her mother’s well-appointed circus, and in expressing it through her voice, Maum has created one of the more appealing narrators we’ve seen in a while. “She said she thought I should take lessons from the other artists in their proper disciplines,” she writes, “and that if I did, I would be a cultured girl. But what am I going to learn? How to be upset with everything and turn things upside down?”