Still Lives by Maria Hummel
Still Lives presents an interesting premise, but fails to see it through
Maggie Richter is a copyeditor for L.A.’s Rocque Museum, where Kim’s Lord’s shocking and macabre installation Still Lives is to be unveiled. The show is a series of self-portraits, where she impersonates some of LA’s most famous female murder victims. However, when Kim goes missing and her boyfriend Greg is arrested – who happens to be Maggie’s ex, a fact of which we are often reminded – it is suspected that life might be imitating art.
Though Still Lives presents an interesting premise, it fails to see it through. The plot is excruciatingly slow, and Maggie’s personal motivations and investment in Kim’s disappearance, and her relevance in general, are murky at best. The first 100-150 pages provide little other than art history, sensational descriptions of murder victims, and lamentations on the breakdown of Maggie’s past relationships. Herself included, the cast of characters read more like caricatures and provide no real opportunity for emotional investment.
Whilst it appears that Hummel is trying to make a statement on the sensationalism of violence against women, an actual point never materialises and the novel’s conclusion undermines any argument of the like altogether. Reese Witherspoon’s comment that “there’s a twist at the end that still keeps us up at night” certainly hits home – but rather because of its baffling disconnect to the rest of the book. Overall, Still Lives owes much to the art style which lends it its name: a complete lack of energy or motion, and a pretentious, stuffy attempt at symbolism.
Quercus, out now, £13.99