Review of Andrés G. López, “Cooperstown Picasso.”
During the 1990’s, it became commonplace for me to travel to New York the second week of October. One reason was simply to visit my family, and the second reason was because it was during the weekend of the second week that my brothers, friends, and I, all originally from the Bronx, would travel to this enchanted little town in Central New York called Cooperstown.
Naturally, Cooperstown to most baseball fans and even non-baseball fans is the home of The Baseball Hall of Fame. Strangely enough, if you didn’t know the Hall of Fame was in this beautiful and magical town you could easily walk by it and not even notice this so-called monument to the greatest baseball players of all time and that is ideally the way it should be, in my opinion.
When you walk through the town, nestled alongside the picturesque Lake Otsego, it is hard not to imagine that once upon a time most of America was similar to this town with quaint restaurants and bars, bookstores, colonial homes, adjacent farms, lake side homes, friendly and courteous citizens, and happy and cheerful children playing baseball while their parents look on. You doubt that any movie studio could re-create the enchantment of such a place, possibly the façade, but never the heart and soul of the people who live here or visit.
“Cooperstown Picasso” captures vividly the ambiance and vitality of this lovely town. Novelist Andrés López takes us behind the façade that we see when we walk the streets of Cooperstown, visit its restaurants and bars, and admire its glorious architecture and pristine natural beauty. It is a gripping, suspenseful, and emotionally rich tale wrought with lies, scandals, marital infidelities, and much, much more. The main character, Dr. Tobias Pi, a divorced literature professor teaching at Pleasant Hills College, is the unsuspecting witness, and eventually a target, of many unseemly activities taking place in Cooperstown.
The novel opens up with Dr. Pi teaching Shakespeare’s sonnet 55, a poem with great relevance to the story because it explores the romantic imagination, outlook, and the basis of genuine inspiration. While marble and golden monuments, the speaker claims, will be destroyed in war and savaged by time, the written poem, the “living record” of love, will live on in the fair memory of the young, preserved eternally by language that is masterfully wrought:
Not marble nor the gilded monuments
Of princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme,
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone besmeared with sluttish time.
When wasteful war shall statues overturn,
And broils root out the work of masonry,
Nor Mars his sword nor war’s quick fire shall burn
The living record of your memory.
Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity
Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room
Even in the eyes of all posterity
That wear this world out to the ending doom.
So, till the Judgement that yourself arise,
You live in this, and dwell in lovers’ eyes.
A powerful theme in the novel is thus that great art is life affirming, enriching, and that it elevates and sustains humanity through its darkest and bleakest times. Like the character Jay Gatsby in Fitzgerald’s tragic novel, Dr. Pi is an optimist who tries to move beyond a debilitating past with courage and conviction because he believes that love can work miracles, fill one with hope, and that the good in people far outweighs their human frailties.
Pi is fifty -one years old and lives in a large, old Victorian home in Pleasant Hills, and once a week he goes up to Cooperstown to teach a writing class to nurse practitioners. The distance from Pleasant Hills to Cooperstown is about an hour, and the hilly terrain, narrow roads, and wintry weather makes for some very exciting action scenes. Mr. López knows this country and terrain very well, and he uses it to perfection, and, in a sense, it symbolically becomes an important character in the story.
Except for Dr. Pi’s visits to Cooperstown, he lives a fairly simple life. He lives alone. His daughter, Constance, has moved to NYC and his son, Christopher, lives in Vermont with his family. Each night before falling asleep he texts each child a “Good-night, Love you, Dad.” His ex-wife whom he still loves lives in San Diego where she takes care of her parents. During the many quiet hours Dr. Pi spends alone he often thinks of his sister Maria, a gifted pianist, who was tragically killed in an accident when she was just sixteen. He used to love hearing her play music, and, as a nine-year-old, would sit next to her and turn the pages of her music book as she practiced. These are haunting memories, along with the loss of his mother, Miriam. Dr. Pi is also a musician and plays the guitar and many of his original compositions to relax. He usually falls asleep watching scientific shows on TV.
Like so many lonely men, Dr. Pi falls into an online relationship with a beautiful and talented young Russian woman, Katerina, who is twenty-four and now lives in Poland. They text and post pictures of themselves on Instagram, and he depends on her texts and pictures to cheer and inspire him. He knows the idea of a fifty-one-year-old man and a twenty-four-year beauty ever having an intimate and loving relationship is insane but that does not stop him from seriously thinking of going to visit her in Poland, or inviting her to his home, all expenses paid.
During his once-a-week trip to Cooperstown to teach the nurse practitioners, he arrives early and sits on a bench close to the water. He is totally alone until out of nowhere an attractive lady, Janet Brayden, sits on the bench beside him. They exchange pleasantries but that’s about all, and after about fifteen minutes she gets up and leaves. Pi doesn’t give it much thought until a few weeks later, while in Cooperstown and eating at a bar and restaurant, she approaches his table and reminds him of the night they were sitting on the bench. He invites her to sit down, and they converse about themselves. She tells him that she’s a painter and invites him to her house to look at and possibly buy some of her art.
It doesn’t take him long to visit Janet. She’s not only an artist but is very pretty and in her mid- forties, much closer in age than Katerina. Janet shows him her studio, and eventually her gallery, which was once a barn, and now is a showcase for her beautiful paintings. Pi buys a few paintings, and after another visit they start sleeping together, and she invites him over to Christmas dinner to meet her gifted son, Phillip, who is a talented pianist and loves playing the music of the masters.
It is during these visits to and from Janet’s house that Pi becomes embroiled in a mystery, and he ponders whether his own life is in peril. The more that Janet’s turbulent past becomes the narrative’s central focus, and the greater the number of her lies that are uncovered, the more and more thrilling and suspenseful this beautifully crafted book becomes. Pi’s mysterious Russian beauty, Katerina, meanwhile, lingers in the background, and keeps a reader guessing, wondering what role she’ll ultimately play in Dr. Pi’s fate.
Mr. López’s novel reads as gracefully and beautifully as seeing Joe DiMaggio playing centerfield in the old Yankee Stadium. The numerous artistic references made throughout the story are as enchanting and spell binding as the uplifting movements of Sergei Vasilyevich Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2.