Critics Praise The Pelton Papers

“Quietly moving.”—New York Times


“Coates’ thoroughly researched novel…succeeds beautifully at recreating the emotional life of this once-obscure artist, whose legacy has lately become the subject of renewed interest….The author also describes the artist’s unique spiritual journey and the inspiration for her later, abstract works in vivid prose that’s worthy of the artist. An in-depth, highly personal portrait of a remarkable talent.”—Kirkus Reviews* (starred review)

“Coates’ first novel, a remarkable imagining of modernist artist Agnes Pelton’s life, with layered focus on her personal and professional growth in New York and the Southwest, is an intriguing combination of historical fiction and biography….deeply moving….A meditative and memorable story of one artist’s complex journey.”—Booklist

“Coates’s stirring debut imagines the life of painter Agnes Pelton….[and] brilliantly captures the creative eye of an unassuming, uniquely talented artist.”—Publishers Weekly


“Beautifully lucid, calm and radiant, this lovely novel illuminates what it really means to shape a life around the making of art. To rise, having been disappointed. To rise, again and again.”– Andrea Barrett, author of Ship Fever and Archangel

“The Pelton Papers is a beautifully clear-eyed and moving portrait of the artist as a young woman in the early 20th century, the artist in this case the American painter Agnes Pelton.  Her peripatetic journey across America and Europe in search of inspiration and knowledge and a space of her own affords us a glimpse of all of those elements that set someone’s creative life into motion.  The novel is both an affecting affirmation of our inner lives and art as a spiritual conveyance – a blueprint for how we might create our own illuminated world — and a heartbreaking account of the intimacy-destroying underside of that capacity for solitude that reminds us to celebrate what we can do and to forgive ourselves for what we can’t.”–Jim Shepard, author of The World to Come: Stories and The Book of Aron: A Novel  

“The Pelton Papers is an extraordinary book. Like its subject, Agnes Pelton, it avoids the obvious at every turn. I loved accompanying her through the first half of the twentieth century to her own visionary modernism as a painter. It’s the skill of this novel to make her life of contradictions —solitary, social, ignored, glorified—the quietly fabulous tale that it is.”– Joan Silber, author of Improvement, winner of the PEN/Faulkner award for Fiction and the National Book Critics Circle Award   

“In The Pelton Papers the wonderfully gifted Mari Coates recreates in gorgeous detail both Agnes Pelton’s work and the life that led to that work. Reading these mesmerizing pages, I felt that I understood all over again the hardships and the joy of making art. From first to last Pelton is on a journey of the soul and we, her lucky readers, are privileged to accompany her on that journey of darkness and radiance. A truly marvelous debut.”– Margot Livesey, author of Mercury and The Flight of Gemma Hardy

“A luminous portrait of a woman with remarkable artistic talent, courage and wisdom. Agnes Pelton grapples with the devastating consequences of a family scandal and her own secret passions during the tumultuous early twentieth century in America, when women had not yet won the right to vote. Beautifully written, the book is not only a feast for the senses, but also a profound meditation on the creative process and the regenerative power of art.”– Helen Fremont, author of The Escape Artist and After Long Silence

“Ahead of her time and driven by a spiritual gift, Agnes Pelton speaks powerfully in Mari Coates’s lovingly dramatized novel. Secret desires, family scandals, brushes with Djuna Barnes and other luminaries: interesting subplots abound. This is an inspiring account of a born artist who followed her calling from New York to the desert and continually discovered the transcendent through her art.”–Rachel Howard, author of The Risk of Us and The Lost Night

“In her remarkable debut, Mari Coates recreates the life of Agnes Pelton, an important, overlooked figure in 20th-century American art. At once meticulous and sweeping, The Pelton Papers offers, not just a highly readable novel about one woman’s fascinating life, but a kind of manual for how to live as an artist while staying true to the self.”–Naomi Williams, author of Landfalls 

“A beautifully written imagining of the intimate world of artist Agnes Pelton, whose spirit and under-appreciated work Mari Coates brings back to life.”– Peg Alford Pursell, author of A Girl Goes into the Forest