Audubon's Watchby John Gregory Brown
From the acclaimed author of Decorations in a Ruined Cemetery, Audubon’s Watch is “a brazen performance” (New York Times Book Review) inspired by a brief journal entry made by the artist and ornithologist John James Audubon. This richly atmospheric novel traces the paths of two men whose lives are inextricably linked by the tragic events of a
From the acclaimed author of Decorations in a Ruined Cemetery, Audubon’s Watch is “a brazen performance” (New York Times Book Review) inspired by a brief journal entry made by the artist and ornithologist John James Audubon. This richly atmospheric novel traces the paths of two men whose lives are inextricably linked by the tragic events of a single night. Part historical novel, part Victorian murder mystery, Audubon’s Watch “peels away the familiar legend portion of the biography to explore the private mysteries of memory, remorse, and the redemption of pain” (Los Angeles Times). This is a mesmerizing tale, and “in the end, the subject matter of Brown’s material . . . permits him to capture, in midflight as it were, the hummingbird pulse of the human heart” (Orlando Sentinel).
- Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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- 0.51(w) x 5.50(h) x 8.50(d)
Read an Excerpt
“Beauty carries death in its arms,” Emile Gautreaux, physician of New Orleans, once declared to a young apprentice while ceremoniously brandishing the scalpel with which he was about to commence the apprentice’s first lesson in anatomy. This notion must have occurred at least once to the ornithologist and artist John James Audubon as he raised his rifle toward the sky and paused before taking aim on a bird whose exquisite splendor he would recreate on the page. It was indeed beauty and death that brought these two men together. On July 31, 1821, at the estate of James and Lucretia Pirrie in St. Francisville, Louisiana, where Audubon was employed as a tutor to the Pirries’ charming, coquettish daughter and to which Gautreaux had traveled in order to meet the man whose drawings he so admired, the two men spent the night not engaged in pleasant conversation, as Gautreaux had hoped, but keeping watch over the body of Gautreaux’s wife.
Myra Richardson’s striking beauty and curiously frank manner had enchanted and tormented a variety of men before her marriage to Emile Gautreaux. And throughout his life Audubon made gifts of his drawings to women who excited his interest, with coy and affectionate tributes hastily scrawled in charcoal pencil on the back. But the manner of Myra Gautreaux’s death its mystery and vulgarity, its suggestion of exaltation, its intimation of despair and the troubling beauty of even her lifeless body seemed to assure that both men would never free themselves from their memory of this evening. Thirty years later, confined to his bed and amid his mind’s ceaseless wanderings,Audubon turned again to his meeting with Emile Gautreaux. He spoke not to his sons, John Woodhouse and Victor, nor to his wife, Lucy, nor to his dear friend, John Bachman, but to his two daughters, grown in his mind’s eye to their full grace and beauty. Just as Audubon finally spoke, so did Emile Gautreaux. His carriage made its way from New Orleans to New York, an arduous journey lasting nearly a month. But what was a month? It was nothing. For thirty years passion and grief had burrowed so deep that they had invaded every chalky bone to the marrow. They had feasted with insatiable appetite on the soul. They had become both sustainer and destroyer, mother and infant, victor and victim, carrion and cathedral, the earth’s lime and loam. Here was the very embrace of the heavens.
Copyright © 2001 by John Gregory Brown. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.
Meet the Author
John Gregory Brown lives in Virginia and teaches creative writing at Sweet Briar College. He is the author of The Wrecked, Blessed Body of Shelton LaFleur and Decorations in a Ruined Cemetery, which received a Steinbeck Award and the Lillian Smith Award. Audubon's Watch was selected as the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities Book of the Year.
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I loved Brown's first two novels, 'Decorations in a Ruined Cemetery' and 'The Wrecked Blessed Body of Shelton Lafleur', but I think this new one is his best. As with the others, this is a terribly sad and rather disturbing story but the writing is glorious and the observations about John James Audubon completely fascinating. Brown takes us into the minds of Audubon and the anatomist Emile Gautreaux not just as artist and scientist but as men. He examines them the way they examine their subjects. The novel's real subject seems to be grief and passion and the way both can take hold of us. I think John Gregory Brown's books deserve to get much more attention than they do.