British art critic Laura Cumming believes that her life can be summed up through the great works of the 17th-century Dutch painters she grew up loving. In her genre-defying memoir, she uses the artwork of Vermeer and Rembrandt, among others, to explore love, loss, and loneliness. The book’s title refers to the accidental explosion of a gunpowder arsenal in 1654 Delft, which killed 1,200 people and all but wiped out the Dutch city. The explosion’s most notable victim was Carel Fabritius, the gifted young painter of “The Goldfinch,” which was the inspiration for Donna Tartt’s 2013 novel of the same name. The book is a eulogy for the painter who suddenly lost his life at the age of 32, but also for the author’s father, renowned Scottish painter James Cumming, whose death at 68 came too soon. “Paintings are not substitutes,” Cumming’s dad told her. “They are something else altogether.” To Cumming, that something else is a way to keep those she loves alive long after they are gone. —Shannon Carlin

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