March 2009 | Michael Lieberman

ARTIFACTUAL FICTIONS: The Auction Catalog as Graphic Novel

This piece by Charles Seluzicki originally appeared on Book Patrol. It is fittingly reproduced here in its entirety.  

Hindsight might entice the reader of Leanne Shapton's bittersweet graphic novel IMPORTANT ARTIFACTS AND PERSONAL PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF LENORE DOOLAN AND HAROLD MORRIS,... ( Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009) to ponder that inevitable moment when an author might appropriate the form of the auction catalog to tell a story. It makes such perfect sense. Auction catalogs and bookseller's catalogs, especially those dedicated to the dispersal of a single collection, always tell a story. That story is told through the objects collected and why; often it is the story of an entire life shaped by consuming passions, even disturbing compulsions. And not uncommonly such stories are told publicly only on the death of the collector. So it makes sense, perfect sense. All this being said, there is almost no accounting for the surprise that I felt as I strolled through Broadway Books in Portland and saw this book, so perfectly mimicking the form of the auction catalog, displayed along recent graphic novels.

Now, admittedly, in my experience as an antiquarian bookseller, the auction catalog is pervasive. I have received them in the mail every other day for the last thirty years. Which is the point: I'm asking myself, in the moment, "What the hell is this doing here?" Shapton's novel comes as a complete surprise. She takes the form of the auction catalog, upends it. No auctioneer, of course, would produce a catalog of such mundane stuff.

Every personal note and inscription in a gifted book, every bit of clothing, every object associated with the doomed relationship documented in this "auction" is displayed for sale and valued. The catalog's offerings build their own voyeuristic narrative energy, defining character, action and sense of place. It is all rather compelling. Opening this book is like finding a picture of an old girlfriend in the bottom of drawer.

--Charles Seluzicki


Randy Kennedy's review at the New York Times; A Novelist's Catalog of Lives on the Block.

Two + minute interview with Shapton at Your Tango:

Paramount Pictures has bought the film rights. Brad Pitt and Natalie Portman have signed on to play the leads.