Queen of Arts, by Frances Pauli – Book Review by Fred Patten
by Pup Matthias
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
Queen of Arts, by Frances Pauli.
Moses Lake, WA, Gastropod Press, February 2018, trade paperback, $8.99 (184 pages), Kindle $0.99.
This is purely a funny-animal soap-opera. It’s also a connected collection masquerading as a novel. “Queen of Arts” is on pages 1 to 132. “In the Margins” is pages 134 to 167. “Off the Record” is pages 168 to 182.
Waterville has two rival newspapers, the Arts Examiner and the Gazette. They compete for scoops and more, angling for contacts with the municipal government and Waterville’s social leaders. When the latter decide to hold a Waterville Festival of the Arts, including a city-wide art contest, and the Gazette pledges to sponsor its prizes, the Arts Examiner has to scramble to make up any lost ground.
Stella Rose, the Arts Examiner’s senior editor, is the protagonist. Stella is a cinnamon bear. Marge, a squirrel, is the assistant editor. Vanessa Lorne, a rabbit, is one of the Examiner’s reporters, along with Gerald, an ibex, and Buck, a zebra photographer. Others are Mr. Mort Growning (tapir), the paper’s manager and Stella’s boss; his secretary Francine Tsarong (snow leopard); Mayor Stimple (bison); Lydia Willard (black panther), an art gallery owner; Terrence Ortega (polar bear), another art gallery owner; and many more.
“‘There you are.’ Growning huffed and leaned to the side, out of the line of the mayor’s horns. His rubbery snout uncurled, dangling like a stub of hose below his piggy eyes. ‘Stella, at last.’
‘I’m five minutes early.’ She checked the clock on the far wall to be certain.
‘Fine. Yes.’ Growning waved a gesture of dismissal. ‘Feel free to continue, Mr. Mayor.’
‘We’ll rely on you for full coverage.’ The bison’s voice shook the door on its hinges. ‘I want a dedicated team for this.’
‘Exclusive coverage?’ The tapir’s trunk extended to its full length. Not exactly impressive, but enough to tell Stella his interest was piqued, focused on whatever the bison had proposed before she arrived.
‘Now, now.’ The mayor tugged at the front of his suit, and his two companions exchanged a look that told Stella they wouldn’t be getting an exclusive. ‘The Gazette has sponsored the awards. We have to allow them…’
‘You went to the Gazette first?’ Growning clutched at his heart with one hoofed paw. ‘To the Gazette? We’re the Arts Examiner. Arts. That rag only publishes a column on culture once a fortnight, not to mention some of the garbage they’ve printed about y–’
‘They came to us.’ The bison rumbled over the top of Growning’s tirade. ‘Almost the second we had the idea, in fact. We have to allow them coverage, but the Examiner has more space for arts columns. We came to you first.’” (pgs. 7-8)
Stella’s job is a cross to bear. Her boss is a male chauvinist:
“‘We’ll put together a dedicated team. Growning pulled his trunk in tight, stood as tall as he could and patted his belly. ‘I’ll have Stella put our best men on it.’
Except their best men were women, and Growning knew it… and hated it.” (p. 10)
Marge, her assistant editor, is an incompetent imposed on her by Growning:
“Ignoring the squirrel’s gossip, Stella grunted and ambled past the coffee pots, behind the reporters’ desks to the hallway which led to their office. Marge continued to chatter all the way to editing. When Stella had settled her purse behind the desk, removed and hung her jacket, and taken a seat, Marge threw both paws over her little muzzle and gasped.
‘You’d better get in there.’
‘Mr. Growning wants you in his office first thing.’ Marge puffed her chest out and flicked her tail, nose in air and little paws clasped as if in prayer.
‘You might have started with that.’” (p. 6)
But it’s not only her newspaper job. Stella has become the unofficial den mother for much of the office staff, Vanessa and Francine in particular. Vanessa is in a strange relationship with Leonard Velaski (lion), Waterville’s unofficial municipal poet laureate. Francine wants to become a reporter, not the boss’ private secretary. Stella has a bland personal life. She shares an apartment with an actively gay male friend, Frederick Wasco (raccoon), and acts as his den mother, too.
“Queen of Arts” bounces between Stella’s and “her girls’” involvement with the Festival of the Arts (should they just cover it for the Examiner, or should they individually enter it?); Stella’s, Vanessa’s, and Francine’s personal goals; Freddy’s getting into abusive relationships; and Stella’s own romantic life – and why she is terrified of having one. “In the Margins” is about Francine’s joining the Examiner, and “Off the Record” is about what Vanessa learns about Leonard Velaski.
Maybe I shouldn’t be reviewing this book. I don’t have any interest in slice-of-life (“soap opera”) stories, and I prefer my anthro-animal fiction to have more emphasis on the animals’ species natures and instincts. If you do like soap operas and don’t mind funny-animals, then you should enjoy Queen of Arts. It’s very smoothly written.
“The applause swelled again, and Velaski waited for it, nodding in one direction and then the other with that huge, self-satisfied grin on his face. Maybe that was the problem. Perhaps, Vanessa’s change in perspective was a natural side-effect of disillusionment. The hero in person was less worthy than the one she’d imagined while reading his words?
Stella listened for it, when the lion began to recite. She heard the brilliance in the poems’ [sic.] words, but not an ounce of sincerity in the poet’s voice. Two works in, and she found herself bored, watching her companions again.” (p. 83)
“The Galleria del Urso catered to bears. A four foot canvas in the front window displayed a rainbow of dancing grizzlies painted by the exhibit’s featured artist. Stella paused outside to admire it, to take in the ornate golden frame, the brick gallery façade, and the scrolling iron sign above the door.” (p. 85)
“When she caught up, both her friends were admiring a bronze sculpture. It had been installed in a nook near the rear of the space, and a single spotlight aimed to highlight the cast forms which were four, long paw prints mounted on clear glass pillars. Their shadow stretched away on the wall behind, a trick of the light’s angle, and the space above the piece was a stark white contrast.
Stella squinted at it, at the four heavy shapes with nothing but white wall and air above them. Appealing, the contrast, but she couldn’t quite pinpoint why.
‘The bear is implied.’ Terrence Ortega had slipped up behind them. ‘The negative space above, the arrangement of the prints. You can almost see her.’” (pgs. 86-87)
“She’d almost convinced herself that the work [a different one] was secretly Ortega’s, until a frazzled, tuft-tailed, kangaroo rat scampered up to him.
‘How are they doing? Do you think it’s going okay? Shouldn’t we have sold something by now?’
‘Relax, Manny.’ Terrence placed a paw on the rat’s shoulder. ‘It’s going well. They’re engaging. The work looks amazing.’
‘But nothing has sold.’ The smaller animal twisted his paws together and flattened his round ears.
‘Nothing sells this early. Stella, this is our artist, Manuel Rivera.’
‘Nice to meet you.’ Stella tried to hide her surprise, but Rivera had eyes, after all.
‘You thought I’d be a bear, right?’
‘Well, I … I suppose it was an unfair assumption, Mr. Rivera.’
He laughed, a high lilting twitter. ‘An assumption everyone makes. Don’t feel bad. I paint bears for many reasons, but being a bear isn’t one of them.’” (pgs. 88-89)
The cover is by Frances Pauli, but she says that she isn’t the artist. She has computer-manipulated some free art from the Internet. She has chosen excellently. The bear and rabbit certainly look like Stella and Vanessa, and the panther could be Lydia Willard except that she’s described as a black panther.
Pauli is known in furry fiction circles for her excellent s-f stories set on other worlds. Queen of Arts shows her versatility.
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