What We Leave Behind

Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper by Harriet Scott Chessman

Poignant. This novel is poignant. It’s a tiny book, about a short period in the life of Lydia Cassatt, sister of the artist Mary Cassatt. Lydia, who knows she is dying (of Bright’s disease), reflects on her life and seems to believe it has lacked the importance of her sister’s life and work. But even from Lydia’s point of view, we can see how much she means to her sister, as well as her treasured role in the family. She is a doting aunt, and in one vignette, we see her crocheting a shawl for her niece’s cherished doll (depicted in the painting Lydia Crocheting in the Garden). Each of the five sections of the book revolves around a painting of Lydia by her sister (here called “May,” her family nickname), and an image of each painting is included in the book. Lydia’s world may have been small, but it was rich— and the novel left me feeling the same awareness of the dearness of life that I felt at the end of Our Town. The characters here are lovely, and the book evokes a sense of the love within a family.

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