"Someone Always Nearby" by Susan Wittig Albert: Review/Giveaway

Review by Claire A Murray

Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win not only a signed copy of the book, but one of Susan's China Bayles mysteries as well. 

In 1941, Maria Chabot joins Georgia O’Keeffe at “Ghost Ranch” in New Mexico, and thus begins a lifelong relationship between artist O’Keeffe and writer Chabot, who is twenty years younger. Chabot yearns to study and apply O’Keeffe’s discipline to her own craft and assumes the role of the artist’s assistant.

O’Keeffe has no skills to run the ranch, and Chabot’s planned writing afternoons are consumed with a range of tasks: hiring competent staff who often run afoul of O’Keeffe’s moods and quit or are summarily fired, traveling back and forth with supplies, fixing broken water pumps and other fixtures, or driving O’Keeffe to various locations to paint.

Chabot proves to be skilled in managing the ranch and repairing much of what doesn’t work, and it feeds her fascination with farming and restoring adobe structures. These last through her lifetime and frame many of her eventual decisions.

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Image Source Greenleaf Book Press
O’Keefe considers, and calls, anyone who assists her a “slave” and refers to Chabot as her “hired man.” Despite this, Chabot deludes herself into thinking she is O’Keefe’s friend. O’Keefe tests this “friendship” over and over with her constant demands.

Despite O’Keeffe’s public persona as an artist who isolated herself in the desert for six months each year—the other half living in New York with her older husband Alfred Stieglitz—O’Keeffe was entirely incompetent in running a household or living on her own. She needed and had someone always nearby who managed everything for her. Sadly, O’Keeffe took credit for those someone’s accomplishments.

Even after Chabot left O’Keeffe and moved to a project for Mary Cabot Wheelwright, she shuttled back and forth to help O’Keeffe at the start of each New Mexico season. Chabot filled a similar role for her parents in Texas, such that her needs seemed always subservient to those of others. This all leads to the fitting title, Someone Always Nearby.

While Chabot is a lesbian, there is no indication she and O’Keefe had a romantic relationship. The married O’Keeffe dallied with men—generally much younger—and perhaps women. Chabot’s lovers were mostly distant or available only when the partner’s other lover was away.

Historical fiction fascinates me because it crafts fiction around real past events and requires tons of research by the author. Someone Always Nearby must have been quite challenging for Susan. It feels more biographical than fiction as it reveals, from 1941 on, O’Keeffe’s and Chabot’s lives as their relationship develops, is tested, regrows, and eventually withers, much like a flower—one subject for which Okeeffe’s paintings are famous.

It is fiction because Susan crafted the dialogue to narrate the unfolding story. However, she was guided by the more than 700 letters exchanged between them, quotes from which she interspersed, and letters and papers from many others surrounding them. These letters lend the book authority.

The book is rich in details, including the many famous people who were part of O’Keeffe’s circle. It offers a history of the land that Chabot worked and how that history affected what and how she transformed it while preserving much of its origins.

Albert is unsparing in her presentation of the two women. I grew to dislike O’Keeffe immensely and wondered at the naiveté of Chabot’s self-denial and persistence in hoping for friendship from someone as self-centered and transactional as O’Keeffe.

However, I admired Chabot’s ability to take on enormous projects and learn from them. Sadly, she went from an unfulfilling relationship with O’Keeffe into a similar one with Wheelwright. In both, Chabot assumed incredible responsibility and was promised a piece of property of her own. Both women disappointed her by changing their wills near the end of their lives.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book as it provided me with insight into the lives of people I knew of only vaguely and the background of New Mexico in a way not depicted by history books. I appreciate that Albert did not try to deify either woman and presented their flaws as well as their positive aspects.

Someone Always Nearby comes with a 158-page Reader’s Guide for book clubs and those curious to learn more about this fascinating period in our history and these two women who lived their lives unconventionally. You can find it on the author's website.

To enter to win a copy of Someone Always Nearby & one of Susan's China Bayles mysteries, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line "someone,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen January 20, 2024. US residents only and you must be 18 or older to enter. If entering via email please include your mailing address in case you win. If entering via comment please include your email address so we can contact you. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section in Kings River Life and in our mystery category here on KRL News & Reviews. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. And check out our new mystery podcast which features mystery short stories and first chapters read by local actors! 

You can click here to purchase this book.


Claire A Murray writes crime, mystery, fantasy, and sci-fi short stories and novels. She also writes reviews, hosts Zoom write-ins for aspiring and experienced authors, and is completing a suspense fantasy novel so she can return to her trilogy and two other novels awaiting revision. Play the Hand You’re Dealt is her crime and mystery short story collection. Find her at cam-writes.com.

 Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases. KRL also receives free copies of most of the books that it reviews, that are provided in exchange for an honest review of the book.


  1. Love reading historical fiction and sounds like a book I would really enjoy reading.

  2. Having lived in New Mexico many years I like to read more about the O'Keefe and her friend. Want to read the book!

  3. I would love to win your wonderful giveaway!! Thank you for the chance!🥰
    Sherry Brown

  4. I am a big fan of her China mysteries. I’d love to win these!! Lindaherold999(at) gmail(dot)com

  5. I have loved Susan Wittig Albert's historical fiction books and have every intention of reading this one. It's set in my favorite part of the country and I have been to Abiqui to her place, it's about my favorite artist, and it is written by a favorite author.

  6. Though I don't want to send this anonymously, the page won't allow me to do otherwise. I'm Paula Yost and am pleased to say how much I enjoyed working with Susan Albert on research for her book. Fascinating characters, subjects, landscapes, and history unfold in this novel along with the magic Susan brings to every page. This great review is well deserved.

  7. We have a winner!
    Lorie Ham


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