The hero of this one-of-a-kind novel is Russel Darlington, a born naturalist and an unlikely romantic hero. We meet him in the year 1895—a seven-year-old boy first glimpsed chasing a frog through an Indiana swamp. And we follow this idealistic, appealing man for nearly forty years: into college and over the Rockies in pursuit of a new species of butterfly; through a clumsy courtship and into a struggling marriage; across the Pacific, where on a tiny, rainy island he suffers a nightmarish accident; through the ...
The hero of this one-of-a-kind novel is Russel Darlington, a born naturalist and an unlikely romantic hero. We meet him in the year 1895—a seven-year-old boy first glimpsed chasing a frog through an Indiana swamp. And we follow this idealistic, appealing man for nearly forty years: into college and over the Rockies in pursuit of a new species of butterfly; through a clumsy courtship and into a struggling marriage; across the Pacific, where on a tiny, rainy island he suffers a nightmarish accident; through the deaths of friends and family and into a seemingly hopeless passion for an unapproachable young woman.
Darlington’s Fall is ultimately a love story. It is written in verse that—vivid, accessible, and lush—imparts an intensity to the story and its luminous gallery of characters: Russel’s rich, taciturn, up-right, guilt-driven father; Miss Kraus, his formidable housekeeper; Ernst Schrock, his maddening, gluttonous mentor; and Pauline Beaudette, the beautiful, ill-starred girl who becomes his wife. Leithauser’s embracingly compassionate outlook invites us into their world—into a past so sharply realized it feels like the present.
In Darlington’s Fall, Brad Leithauser offers an ingeniously plotted story and the virtues long associated with his elegant stanzas: wit, music, and a keen eye for the natural world. His independent careers as novelist and poet come together brilliantly here, producing something rare and wonderful in the landscape of contemporary American writing: a book that bends borders, a happy marriage of poetry and fiction.
The lepidopterist Russ Darlington, who stands at the center of Leithauser's novel in verse, is torn between Wordsworth's nature ("Nature never did betray the heart that loved her") and Darwin's, with its vulgarized slogan, "survival of the fittest." Leithauser uses 10-line stanzas to take us from the Booth Tarkington-like Indiana of Russ's birth in 1888 to his second marriage, in the 1930s. Russ shows an early inclination to study nature and more specifically, butterflies, finding an ally in an eccentric Austrian exile, Professor Schrock, who tutors him in German and natural science. At Old University, it becomes clear that Russ is meant to be a professor. Unfortunately, he falls for and marries the flirtatious Pauline Beaudette, who is surely not meant to be a professor's wife. But before their temperamental differences become too evident, Russ sets out for Malaya to collect butterflies. He never makes it. On the Pacific island of Ponape, hunting a stray Morpho, he falls and is crippled. Once he comes home, he separates from Pauline, making a bachelor nest with his father. Leithauser leads us up to the 1930s, when Russ, alone and debilitated, proposes to his maid, and then, in a long coda, he combines Russ's dream on the night before his second marriage with Leithauser's own journey to Ponape. Russ's vision of life as "a sort of swap-shop/ an auction run without an auctioneer" is a view of chance and selection regretfully purified of Wordsworthian sentiment and very much in tune with our own neo-Darwinian times. 12 line drawings by Mark Leithauser. (Mar. 27) Forecast: Though Leithauser's latest is more accessible than its form might suggest, it lacks the sense of urgency and invention that encouraged readers of Anne Carson's Autobiography of Red to brave a book-length poem. For inveterate fans only. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Leithauser is a rare literary talent, equally at home in verse or prose, as shown by his distinguished publication record five novels, four books of poetry, and one book of essays. His latest effort is a successful hybrid of all his talents: a novel in verse that is sumptuously detailed, highly readable, and studded with authorial intrusions revealing Leithauser's biographical connection to the events of the narrative. Leithauser tells a powerful love story centered on Russ Darlington, an Indiana entomologist and child prodigy whose career was cut short by a tragic accident on a Polynesian island. That was his first "fall"; the second was falling in love with his beautiful young housekeeper, Marja. The lucky reader will delight in the "dailiness and rootedness" of the narrative and the occasional transcendent "moment of dizziness stirred by sympathy." Strongly recommended for all collections. Daniel L. Guillory, Millikin Univ., Decatur, IL Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Novelist/poet Leithauser (A Few Corrections, 2001, etc.) himself admits that this one is long for a poem but short for a novel. Still, it's a pleasant hybrid no matter how you look at it. Russel Darlington is one of those intrepid early-modern souls whose faith in science and dedication to human progress helps set the course of the 20th century, for better and for worse. Born in 1888 in Storey, Indiana, Darlington is the son of a wealthy merchant and loses his mother while still a young boy. Fascinated by insects, lizards, and snakes, he becomes a passionate student of biology and many years later is appointed professor of entomology at Old U., his alma mater. Though bookish and shy by nature, he manages to win the heart of Pauline Beaudette, an Old U. classmate from St. Louis, whom he marries against his father's better wishes. It's an unhappy union almost from the start: Pauline finds Darlington's scientific pursuits boring, and she's bitterly disappointed, as well, in her failure to conceive a child. The two divorce, and Pauline eventually goes mad. Darlington immerses himself in his work, setting off on a long expedition to study butterflies on the tiny Pacific island of Malaya, where he nearly dies after falling from a cliff. He recuperates in the US, resumes his university career, and (with the fortune he inherits from his father) founds a natural history museum. Solitary in his habits and highly focused on his work, he is content to live as a single man-until he falls in love with Marja Szumski, the 21-year-old daughter of his housekeeper. A fine, quiet, and rewarding portrait, written in fluid verse that is both unobtrusive and elegant.
Brad Leithauser was born in Detroit and graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School.
He is the author of five previous novels—Equal Distance, Hence, Seaward, The Friends of Freeland, and A Few Corrections; four volumes of poetry—The Odd Last Thing She Did, Mail from Anywhere, Cats of the Temple, and Hundreds of Fireflies; and a book of essays. He is the recipient of many awards for his writing, including a MacArthur Fellowship. An Emily Dickinson Lecturer in the Humanities at Mount Holyoke College, he lives with his wife and their two daughters, Emily and Hilary, in Amherst, Massachusetts.
The hand hungers: the jewel of the world,
And his for the taking. In all his long
Life of looking, never once beheld
A thing so fine—never wanted anything
Quite so much as this astonishing
Being, this stout green glittering
Prize . . . But the getting his hands on it,
The business of the capturing, That will be dicey (difficult, delicate),
With so many ways everything can go wrong . . .
Hands are hungry and with hungry hands
You must work extra hard to keep
Your wits about you, to be slow and quick
At once, as the situation demands.
(When you're so full of wanting, it's no small trick.)
Boil down all the trees in the forest until
They form a single cup of resin, still
You would never concoct a green
So bright, so dark, so dizzyingly deep
As this, the purest color he has ever seen.
The jewel of the world: conceived
In mud and muck, then dropped on a fallen log
Down at the edge of the pond. He can't stop
Even to remove his shoes—no time—
Wades rights in, feet sucked at by the slime . . .
The trouble here? It's that the frog
(The hugest frog in all the world) can get away
So many different ways, can simply drop—
Flop!—and be gone, never to be retrieved.
Oh, so many ways for things to go astray!
He slides toward it, heart about to burst
In his mouth, heart full in his hands. It must be
A dream . . . that's what he'd thought at first,
Spotting it: so big, so green, and right there.
That was the amazing thing: the thing's reality.
The wish formed instantly, deep as any prayer:
Let me get my hands on him! Here's the prize
He's waited all his life for: the overfull
Eyes and barrel chest, the kingly receding skull,
The bulging banked power in the thighs . . .
A sliding step—a sliding step—and nearly
Nearly there. Inside his chest, desire suspends
A weight, a weight connected to a spring,
His heart like a mousetrap, waiting
To snap shut with an absolutely desolating
Empty clap . . . How will he bear it if the thing
Escapes?—oh, when he wants it so dearly,
Never wanted anything so much!
And almost there, now he can all but touch—
A hungry beggar's hand extends . . .
He lunges, just as the frog leaps,
And right there,
in midair's where
The two creatures (hands of the one, brute
Miraculous torso of the other) lock
Together, a solid thumping shock
That races up his arm like a flare,
Crackles and cleanses and expands
As it climbs, torching his brain. (And the fire keeps
Burning: decades hence, when his fleet-foot
Boyhood's dim, he'll recall, with tingling hands,
The summer morning when his little hands
Clamped on the creature and held it whole,
Feeling in that moment so rich a press
Of feeling, perhaps no other touch
(Or maybe one?—one only?—the one to come
Four decades on?) ever will thrill him quite so much.
Oh, every cell in his body understands
What he himself cannot begin to guess:
This instant lasts forever, there are some
Encounters that configure your soul.)
The thing squirms—
squirms half loose, slips,
But his fingers grapple: one leg, got it, one
Big back leg grasped tight, as his other hand, scooping
Upward, catches it from below, grips
It round the chest: the booming noble pulse
Yes in his palm: he has it, it's now his great good luck
To have it: the jewel of the world—and where else
But in the warm chalice of his hands? A whooping
Howl rips free of his throat, winging like a duck
Over the trees, straight at the sun.
. . . Quite a specimen himself, striding in glory
From the swamp to Great Elm Street with his live
Plunder, feeling on this day of his greatest fame
Like king of the whole town, his hometown, Storey,
Indiana—this Russel Darlington,
Customarily known as Russ, although the name
He himself secretly prefers is one
Provided by Mr. Hauser, the town pharmacist,
Who calls him Little Mister Naturalist.
Russ is seven, this summer of 1895.
Quite a small boy still, yet even so
An object of large and labored supposition
To his neighbors. For one thing, his father, John,
May well be the county's wealthiest man; for another,
The boy's clearly in need of female supervision,
His mother having died three years ago
Giving birth to a stillborn son
(It being a truth universally understood
That a young male heir to a good
Fortune is in want of a mother).