“Everything goes. / The wind blows, / The sea flows--/ And nobody knows. (11)
Robert Nathan’s “Portrait of Jennie” is a poetic, haunting and beautiful“Everything goes. / The wind blows, / The sea flows--/ And nobody knows. (11)
Robert Nathan’s “Portrait of Jennie” is a poetic, haunting and beautiful surprise of a novel. I find it interesting that there seems so much ink spelled on discussing whether this is a ghost story, or a time-travelling romance. But the idea of a time-traveler, a ghost, a haunting is really one in the same. We have a person here, Jennie, who is from another time, and has ended up in the present, somehow, of 1930s New York City and Cape Cod.
In the hands of a lesser writer, this story could so easily fall apart. Nathan chooses not to give us complex and contrived explanations for the ghost of Jennie, and the connection that this hand from the past has reached out and made with our narrator Eben. In the place of such conclusions made for the reader is Eben’s bearing witness to his experience, and wondering; accepting only the mystery of it all. There are many ways to read this story, and lines to read light between. Whether Jenny is a ghost, a person intentionally bending the limits of time and space, or a person struggling to find another to be with and be remembered—the tale works; literally, metaphorically, allegorically, as simply a story.
The ending of the novel leaves more questions than answers, and there is a sad beauty in that. Nathan’s writing is simple, direct and frequently beautiful. The best ghost stories are those that end up being about the living just as much as those who have gone before. A few stories could be as true, simple or haunting as this one.
“Summer is the worst time of all to be alone. The earth is warm and lovely, free to go about in; and always somewhere in the distance there is a place where two people might be happy if only they were together. It is in the spring that one dreams of such places; one thinks of the summer which is coming, and the heart dreams of its friend.” (64)...more
You know a novel is something special when, within the time of the first few pages, you know those who live within the pages see, feel the world the sYou know a novel is something special when, within the time of the first few pages, you know those who live within the pages see, feel the world the same as you.
"Every living things dies. There's no stopping it." (1) So begins "Unsaid," a novel that denies category at every turn one is available. The novel is narrated by Helena, a veternarian who has died of cancer. The reader is never told any specific thing about the afterlife Helena inhabits; we feel, see and experience it along with her. We don't know why Helena has stayed behind-- but we see through her all she has left behind, and still is connected to in life. Her husband, her animal companions, the friends who shared her cause she worked with.
In "Unsaid" Helena explores death. Her death, what it means to the living she has left behind, what role death played in her life while she was alive. She relives the decisions she had to make as a verternarian and human, when the choice came to end the life of an animal, and she relives the struggle she put up against her own death to cancer. Helena cannot interact with the living; she simply watches. As her husband, David, comes to understand her in ways he never did, or could never fully, in life. As her rescued dogs live and grieve for her. As the man she shared a veterinary practice with continues to try and keep a morally sound practice amid a world where ethics are not always considered. As the colleauge she shared a life of work on chimpanzee communication with struggles to continue her work; as the chimpanzee she focused on, Cindy, is at the mercy of the humans who care for her while this all goes on.
There is so much beauty in this book. On loss, and all life-- animal and human alike. Subjects that could come off as heavy-handed in the hands of a lesser writer are handled here delicately, and always so movingly, by Neil Abramson. The connections the characters make and share-- and how they all do, cannot or learn to communicate with each other-- human and animal-- are beautifully rendered truth.
While so much of this novel's power is subtle and natural, it nonetheless carries great, consistent power. I can't remember a novel that has moved me to tears earlier or more consistently in quite sometime. Beginning with Helena's recollection of her meeting her husband, as they move an injured deer out of the road; to the disabled child of one of Helena's colleagues new colleauges being able to see the world in a way which is the only one to bring comfort to an elderly woman who just lost her dog in surgery; to the many epiphanies David has as he, left behind, comes to understand his wife and her work.
For anyone who has loved, lost an animal companion. For anyone who has loved, lost a person of any consiousness. To anyone who loves the power of literature and bearing-witness and writing stories and longed to understand another person or being, and gain entrace in that most secret of gardens-- Neil Abramson has written a novel of comfort that understands, knows....more
To say that I had been waiting to read Henry James' "The Turn of the Screw" for sometime would be true. I don't like even discussing the issue of how To say that I had been waiting to read Henry James' "The Turn of the Screw" for sometime would be true. I don't like even discussing the issue of how other reviews, or hype, might influence or have to do with my experience of a work. But I had heard so much about this little novella, seen it so revered among many writers I have enormous amounts of respect for.
And I have to say James lived up to my expectations-- in different ways. I was expecting a ghost story for the ages, and I found what appears to be the grandparent of the modern ghost story, as well as horror fiction, for that matter. You have the story presented as "based on true events," as our narrator reads from a manuscript he has, and presents as true. Within the manuscript you have a young governess and children, living on a secluded, sparse, fog-filled English countryside estate.
As a straight ghost story, the novella works incredibly well; especially, when one considers the fact that the spirits seem out to do physical, present harm to those in the children of the House of Bly. However, readings that involve no such definite specters of the departed appear natural. The governess seems to take a job on a physical attraction toward a man who interviews her for a job, and she cannot seem to even mentally acknowledge crimes and offenses committed against the children she governs by those who formerly cared for them. Repressed sexuality, and suppressed mindsets toward sexual abuse are abundant-- but. I do not believe that is all there is to "The Turn of the Screw." What-- for lack of a better word- is a reality in James' novella appears to be subjective, and purposely elusive-- a true, great literary mystery. ...more
I have always been fascinated by, and loved, the ghost story of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman. Since childhood, I loved everything I had se I have always been fascinated by, and loved, the ghost story of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman. Since childhood, I loved everything I had seen about the tale on TV, in the Disney animated version, in children's novel adaptations. But I had never read the original source material of Washington Irving's story.
Irving's tale-- part of a larger work "Sketchbook"-- has everything one could want for a pastoral, autumnal work of the small town tale, fable and ghost story. Ichabod and the drowsy, small village/settlement in New York's Hudson country at harvest is beautifully described, in passages such as this: "It was, as I have said, a fine autumnal day; the sky was clear and serene, and nature wore that rich and golden livery which we always associate with the idea of abundance. The forests had put on their sober brown and yellow, while some trees of the tenderer kind had been nipped by the frosts into brilliant dyes of orange, purple, and scarlet." And it is from this lush, secluded, rural autumn setting Irving explores the nature of myth, of legend, of the ghost story.
The work-- somewhere between a novella and a long short story-- is brief, and spares not a word. The reader is told and shown different pieces, viewpoints of this greater story which has become legend. We are told the story was found in papers, and in these papers we are told of the telling to the papers' writer from another. We see Ichabod, in glimpses, and know only what appear to be flashes on his lead up to the now famous ride home from which he never returns. And then we are left with the many tales the locals tell about what they believe happened to Ichabod-- and we are left to wonder. Did Ichabod meet the Headless Horseman on the fateful night? Was he simply a victim of harassment or worse by Brom? It seems, at first, probable that Ichabod did not meet the ghost, but fell victim to Katrina's other suitor. But the questions abound. Because, if so-- why would Brom attack Ichabod after it appeared Katrina rejected him? There are so many questions left unanswered, and so many answers which become the ghost story legend of Sleepy Hollow-- and the reader is beautifully shown just how local legends are born. ...more