Politics and Society

Monday, July 11, 2011

Art on a Stick: A Critique of The Bird Artist (1994), by Howard Norman

  Howard Norman’s second novel, The Bird Artist, was a National Book Award finalist in 1994. I will be much obliged – and probably shocked – if anyone can tell me why.
   Granted, it has the guts to be an intriguing story, full of fabulously eccentric characters who behave in ways that are shocking and gripping and human in all the best senses of that word. And it even has an ambiguously ‘happy ending.’ So, what’s not to like, you ask? I answer: The book. It just sucks --the way pointless stories do.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Archivist, by Martha Cooley: A Review

   Martha Cooley is a native New Yorker (Brooklyn) whose first novel, The Archivist, was published by Little, Brown and Company in 1998. Good for them, for her, and for us! This is a fine novel, and a treat for those book lovers who like books about ideas and authors -- poets, especially. This one concerns a trove of letters putatively written by T. S. Eliot to a confidant and friend (and possible lover?) Emily Hale, over a twenty-year period, which covered the years of his marital disaster and his wife’s commitment (and eventual death in an asylum) and his conversion to Anglicanism. These letters have been donated to the library of a New York university at which Matthias Lane is ‘the Archivist.’ In the tradition of such novels of vocation, everyone, it turns out, is an archivist, in some manner or to some degree. Only the treasures and the secrets they maintain and protect are different. Of his chosen profession Matthias says:
            I saw myself then, and still do, as inheritor of a rich tradition, one that
         straddles the line between mind and spirit. The great librarians have all
         been religious men – monks, priests, rabbis – and the stewardship of
         books is an act of homage and faith. (Pg. 11)