The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai:
“Some friends of Modi’s wanted to make a death mask. One was Kisling, the painter, who’d become a friend of Ranko’s in the war. And Lipchitz the sculptor. They had no idea what they were doing. The third was an astrologer. And they invited Ranko to watch. I was jealous, because I’d wanted to say goodbye to Modi, and Ranko, who’d hated him, got to go instead. The trouble was, Lipchitz used the wrong plaster, something too abrasive, so when they took it off”—she glanced at each of them—“it peeled off his cheek, and his eyelids. The men panicked and dropped the cast right on the floor. In the end, they pieced it back together, and Lipchitz ended up essentially carving the face. It’s in the museum at Harvard now, and I’ve no desire to see it.”
Fiona seemed fine but Roman looked pale. The imagination that had been allowing him to picture Ranko so vividly was probably not his friend right now. Yale felt woozy himself.
“It drove Ranko over the edge,” Nora said. “He’d already been a wreck, but I think seeing someone—someone of a great talent, no less—turn into a skeleton before his eyes . . . Well, he managed to tell me the story, but it was about the last thing he ever said to me. I’m sure he’d seen worse in the war, but this was different.