this is not a review — aka: ‘stuff’ as story arc, plot AND character development

Leanne Shapton’s Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, including Books, Street Fashion, and Jeweleryis such fun I’m not sure I can do it even a smidge of justice here.

Presented as an exquisite auction catalogue, the book is 129 pages of photographs and ‘Lot’ descriptions of items belonging to the fictious Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris from the time they meet until their breakup some years later. Sheila Heti ‘plays’ Lenore to Paul Sahre’s Harold and the photographs of them are so real (goofing in photo booths, cooking, hanging out with friends) disbelief is well and truly suspended; they are Lenore and Harold. Sheila who?

The catalogue, in essence, catalogues the couple’s meeting and courtship through postcards sent, unique gifts, books with inscriptions, souvenirs and so on, through their relationship and ultimate breakup.

Despite there being no ‘story’—not one bit of narrative or dialogue—there is a definite rhythm and tension to the ‘stuff’ as it’s presented and we come to know these people intimately through their shoes, musical tastes, playbills, party invitations, dishes, clothing, sunglasses, handmade cards, tea towels, recipes, various doo dads and quirks.

LOT 1174 / A half a wishbone / The winning side of a turkey wishbone. Kept by Morris in his bedside table. Length 3 1/2 in. / $5-10

LOT 1197 / A small headlamp / A halogen headlamp, affixed with an elasticized cloth band. $12–15 / Used by Doolan for reading in bed.

A black and white photograph of the item (and often Doolan and/or Morris) accompanies each Lot description.

Towards the end of the catalogue the items slowly reveal a change in the relationship. A broken coffee mug, notes of apology, a white noise machine, restaurant receipt showing the main courses cancelled. Among the last items are pressed flowers and four-leaf clovers kept by each, separately.

Very cleverly done.

Apparently Shapton, a former Torontonian now living in NYC where, at the time of the book’s publication (2009) she was the art director of the New York Times op-ed page, got the idea after attending an auction of Truman Capote’s belongings (at which she purchased his overcoat).

I can only imagine the planning and execution of the book must have been both daunting and a complete blast.

Note: After writing the above, I then googled around for links and, to my horror, stumbled upon this. Good god. The whole magical point of the book is that there is NO action; the ‘stuff’ is what brings the people to life. I somehow can’t see Brad Pitt taking a backseat to a salt shaker.

And that may very well be unfortunate.


Important Artifacts is available for purchase online at Blue Heron Books.

Indie love.  ♥


From the Re-Run Series: originally posted in June, 2010.

7 thoughts on “this is not a review — aka: ‘stuff’ as story arc, plot AND character development

  1. Carin,
    The subject of the book is a clever concept. If I ever get into the boxes of family memorabilia in my basement, I have enough material for a book like that too! But would I? The project sounds like a lot of work. I’ll look for the book. It sounds interesting.

    How amazing to discover it will be made into a movie.

  2. Very clever indeed. And I’d happily ‘read’ it again, which is to some degree like saying I’d read an auction catalogue over and over. But then, why not? Isn’t that what we do when we look at any collection — imagine the story(ies) behind it?

    In this case, Shapton has simply (and brilliantly) created that story for us.

    About those boxes of yours — sounds like fun! Who knows what they’ll inspire…!

  3. Interesting about the movie. I think I know what you mean — there doesn’t always have to be a narrative and sometimes it isn’t about the narrative *or* the things *are* the narrative. But I’m still curious to see the movie and will definitely look for the book. I love the idea!

    1. Didn’t know there was a film. Can’t imagine it. The book feels entirely made for the page. I’m not even sure I’d want to see it… something about the way the characters, in the book, are two dimensional, fits the overall ‘ambience’ of the story. And how we see them through their stuff is the WHOLE point… so a film, hmmmm, weird. May just read the book again instead. (But let me know what you think if you read/see it.)

      1. I found out about the movie by clicking on your “stumbled upon this” link in the post. I guess you were so horrified, you suppressed the memory :)

        1. Ha! I think that’s probably it. The original post was 2010 and the release date was TBD. But still can’t find any evidence of its existence so maybe it was never made. (Thought I’ll admit I didn’t look TOO hard for it…)

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