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A “highly original and imaginative” (The Irish Times) novel—remarkably told through museum wall labels—about a 20th-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 “jewel box of a novel” (Kirkus Reviews) that imagines a privileged 20th-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.
“A moving story of privilege, womanhood, and the sweep of the 20th century told through a single American life” (Rumaan Alam, author of Leave the World Behind), Kitty is an eccentric heroine who disrupts her porcelain life with both major force and minor transgressions. Described with poignancy and humor, 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 lovely, smart, fun, and very funny new novel . . . If you love art and museums as well as brilliant and fun novels, this is one for you. I read it in one sitting. . . . It’s a zinger.” —Airmail
“A jewel box of a novel . . . Coulson’s innovative form is the perfect vehicle for her wry commentary on the complexities of seeing and being seen. . . . She is gifted at conveying astute observations through small, often humorous details. . . . A pleasure to read.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Elegantly wrought . . . Carefully arranged within Coulson’s precisely pointed prose, even strictly rationed words can deliver an abundance of meaning. . . . Her lapidary, impeccably composed labels typically finish with a punchline.” —The New Criterion
“A highly original and imaginative work that captivates and intrigues. The book is so brief that it can be read straight through in an hour, but that is not to say it is slight. Kitty is a pinball that rebounds off the major historical events of the 20th century and this, as well as the inclusion of Kitty’s deeply personal struggles, results in a character of huge pathos and empathy. . . . Coulson’s unusual command of language rewards multiple readings. It is probably best summed up by her American publisher’s initial response to the manuscript—‘bananas brilliant.’” —The Irish Times
“Been waiting for this one!!!” —Sarah Jessica Parker, Instagram
“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
“It’s a wonderfully clever concept, and a book that lends itself to being read in a single sitting, during which you’ll feel the corners of your lips curl upwards again and again. . . . Amid Coulson’s wry, often humorous, occasionally poignant commentary are moments of transgression and longing that show there’s more to our neoclassical heroine than her fine finish.” —The Spectator (UK)
“An extraordinary and deeply original way of telling a person’s story.” —BBC Wales (UK)
“Wildly original . . . A tiny but powerful novel . . . It’s sometimes snarky, sometimes sad, with enough poignant moments to make me wish it could go on and on. . . . You can sit down and read it in less time than it takes to drive to the art museum, but you’ll be thinking about it for far longer. If you appreciate truly original structure and storytelling, put this modern masterwork on your reading list.” —KMUW, Book Review with Suzanne Perez
“Singular and unique . . . We see a life lived through moments in time, captured in 75 words or less.” —Beth Golay, Marginalia