Following the death of a renowned and eccentric collector―the author of "Stuff", a seminal philosophical work on the art of accumulation―the fate of the privately endowed museum he cherished falls to a peripatetic stranger who had been his fervent admirer.
... shrewd, enigmatic ... The biographical parallels between the caretaker, Doon, and her mother are the least interesting aspect of Arbus’s novel. What makes The Caretaker so immensely pleasurable to read is the artistic talent Arbus shares with her mother. They both possess an unusual species of attention, a manner of looking marked by a bemused, impartial curiosity. They insist on letting subjects—and objects—speak for themselves ... Everything is chronicled with such minute precision that they begin to feel alive ... The scrupulous, almost photographic exactitude of these lists, together with their meticulous attention to detail, sacralizes the objects in question, giving them their own kind of perilous agency ... In someone else’s hands, such an approach might come across as ponderous, but Arbus’s writing is uniformly tight and focused, rendered with a light, amusing touch. The Jamesian quality of her prose extends to the book’s pleasantly gothic atmosphere, reminiscent of The Turn of the Screw. Architecture is a character. Windows are often rain-splattered. The weather is perpetually gray ... The experience of reading The Caretaker feels like a visit to the Morgan Foundation might feel, or like flipping through a book of Edward Gorey drawings on a dreary afternoon. One basks pleasantly in the melancholy ... an enigmatic and necessary book, especially for those conflicted about the physical detritus accumulated over the course of a life.
... sly ... Arbus brilliantly describes the caretaker’s distorted sense of the museum as a living, breathing organism and flirts just enough with gothic tropes to dramatize his existential dilemma. Taking cues from tales by Kafka and Robert Walser, Arbus pulls off an unnerving feat of contemporary postmodernism.
The story unfolds slowly, without much incident ... All of this unfurls in long sentences laden with unilluminating details and trailing unnecessary clauses. Possibly this is deliberate: Arbus may be making a point about the accretion of meaning through the accumulation of apparently meaningless fragments, and she may be drawing a parallel to the museum itself and its collections. But while it’s easy to imagine some other writer—Dickens, Melville, Isak Dinesen, Nicholson Baker—spinning this premise into thrilling fiction, Arbus’ caretaker and his museum never assemble the details into a moving story ... A depressed protagonist prevents the novel from achieving depth by keeping fellow characters and readers at a distance.