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A Penguin Reader's Guide to Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him

Synopsis

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New York City is the white hot center of an art bubble and the prices just keeping going up and up and up--quite literally--at the auction that opens Danielle Ganek's novel Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him. Narrator Mia McMurray watches breathlessly with the rest of the gawkers as the price of a single painting--Jeffrey Finelli's Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him--climbs from $700,000 to $4.3 million in a matter of minutes. As the auction closes, Mia casts back to the evening nine months earlier when the debut of a promising emerging (read: unknown) artist turned into an art-world maelstrom that entangled her with New York's most powerful gallery owner, a sexy superstar of installation art, the painter's beautiful muse, and two uber-wealthy collectors.

Before the Finelli opening, Mia's life could not have been less eventful. Employed at the Simon Pryce Gallery in New York's Chelsea district for more than five years, Mia's biggest accomplishment to date has been "single-handedly trying to overturn the stereotype of the nasty gallery girl." She also harbors a secret as deep as it is frustrating: she longs to be a painter herself. But that night, the artist himself sweeps into the gallery bearing a stinky Italian cheese and the canvas that will turn the art world--and Mia's life--upside down.

Despite being a figurative painting--and thus passé by current market tastes--Lulu's impact is huge. The celebrated installation artist Dane O'Neill is mesmerized by the portrait of Lulu, a wise young girl holding a dripping canvas, and the gallery audience is agog, but outside tragedy lurks. Ducking out for a smoke, Finelli is run over by a taxi and his death leaves unanswered questions about the ownership of the painting that everyone suddenly just has to have. Immediately after the accident, the grown-up Lulu appears. Stunning and enigmatic, Lulu Finelli has never met her uncle but it seems he promised her the painting, which Simon claims has already been sold to him. Two billionaire collectors, Connie Cantor and Martin Better, want to buy Lulu but Simon foolishly sells the painting to a fickle Hollywood celebrity who promptly flips it to Pierre LaReine, Simon's nemesis and owner of New York's most influential gallery.

Lulu may not get the painting but she does wind up catching the art bug and Mia--who has made fast friends with her over Chinese takeout and backgammon--watches awestruck as the self-pronounced Wall Street bean-counter metamorphoses into a free-spirited bohemian and a soon-to-be-emerging artist in her own right. Under Dane's loving tutelage, the transformed Lulu might well have instilled jealousy in Mia. But she has her own romantic entanglement--with handsome art advisor Zach Roberts--to keep her occupied and soon enough Mia discovers that her true creative calling doesn't involve oils or canvas. The tale she relates is a lively and charming study of human foibles, the creative impulse, and a hilarious and eye-opening look at the contemporary art world.

Questions for Discussion

1. What do you think about Jeffrey Finelli's promise to Lulu that she could have the painting? Do you think he meant for her to own the actual painting? To whom do you think the painting rightfully belongs and why?

2. Discuss the topic of Simon's panel talk, "the role of the muse in contemporary art," in relationship to Lulu. What is her role as Finelli's muse?

3. Why do you think Lulu slept with Pierre LaReine? Was she using him as much as he seemed to be using her? Who do you think had the advantage and why?

4. Consider Zach's assertion that "collectors only borrow works of art. They can never really own them" (p. 193). Do you feel that a work of art is above personal ownership? Why or why not?

5. Discuss Connie Cantor and Martin Better's respective passions for art collecting. Is one more valid than the other? What is the role of the art collector in today's world. What do you think would happen to "art" if there were no market for it?

6. Mia stumbles across her passion for writing almost by chance. Do you think she ever would have discovered her true creative medium if it hadn't been for Lulu?

7. Simon sold Lulu to the unnamed Hollywood celebrity for $275,000. Four months later, Martin Better purchases the painting for $675,000. Five months after that, it sells at auction for $4.3 million. Is this exponential increase in value legitimate? Why or why not?

8. La Reine is one of the world's preeminent gallery owners yet he mistakes Lulu's unfinished self-portrait for an early Jeffrey Finelli. Do you believe that artistic talent and sensibilities can be inherited?

9. Simon is an enigma to Mia--from his nationality to his sexuality to his spirituality. He is often quite bossy and brusque to her yet she stays with him for more than five years. What role does he play in Mia's life?

10. After Lulu quits her Wall Street job, she tells Mia "I was miscast in my old life... It didn't fit me, the job, the apartment, the fear. Not to get too evangelical about it, but everyone should know what this feels like, to live the life you really want to be living. To be the person you believe yourself to be" (p. 191). It's a sentiment that just about everyone can relate to at some point or another. Discuss an instance in your own life when you felt this way.

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If I was a copycat I'd take this book and call it mine.