She is a painter. He is a poet. Their art bridges time.
It is 1978. Merle is in her first year at the Corcoran School of Art, catapulted from her impoverished Appalachian upbringing into a sophisticated, dissipated art scene. It is also 1870. The teenage poet Arthur Rimbaud is on the verge of breaking through to the images and voice that will make his name. The meshed power of words and art thins the boundaries between the present and the ...
She is a painter. He is a poet. Their art bridges time.
It is 1978. Merle is in her first year at the Corcoran School of Art, catapulted from her impoverished Appalachian upbringing into a sophisticated, dissipated art scene. It is also 1870. The teenage poet Arthur Rimbaud is on the verge of breaking through to the images and voice that will make his name. The meshed power of words and art thins the boundaries between the present and the past - and allows these two troubled, brilliant artists to enter each other's worlds. Radiant Days is a peerless follow- up to Elizabeth Hand's unforgettable, multiply starred Illyria.
Gr 9 Up—Merle Tappitt, 18, is an art student from the hills of Appalachia living in Washington, DC, in the late 1970s. Talented and inexperienced, she is seduced by her married art instructor not long after she starts class at the Corcoran School of Art. Clea becomes Merle's muse, and the gifted teen's sketchbook is soon brimming over with portraits of the older woman. When Clea breaks up with her and her apartment building is set for demolition, Merle abandons painting and drawing for tagging, spray painting her "Radiant Days" logo throughout the city. In alternating chapters, readers are introduced to a young Arthur Rimbaud, the French poet who lived from 1854 to 1891. (The poet's impassioned words and deeply felt emotions have influenced generations of writers, artist, and musicians, including Patti Smith, Bob Dylan, and Jim Morrison.) With the help of a washed-up musician who may or may not be a Greek deity in disguise, Arthur and Merle are able to enter one another's worlds and spend time together. Hand writes in an ambitious, erudite style, and her narrative will hold the attention of thoughtful, sophisticated readers. It is about self-actualization and coming of age as an artist, but readers yearning for a typical romance will most likely be disappointed. However, those who choose to follow Merle and Arthur's story to the end will be transported by the poetic language and magical encounters.—Leah Krippner, Harlem High School, Machesney Park, IL
Hand (Illyria) returns with a surreal tale of art’s ability to transcend time. In 1978, Merle Tappitt, a talented painter and graffiti artist, is kicked out of art school (where she had been having an affair with a teacher). Merle takes to the streets of Washington, D.C., and runs into a legendary, now homeless guitarist, Ted Kampfert, who points her toward a lockhouse by a canal where she can spend the night. Meanwhile, in 1870, 16-year-old poet Arthur Rimbaud sets out for Paris, also bedding down in a lockhouse. The next morning, Merle and Arthur awake together in 1978. Merle and Arthur, both gay, form a mystical bond, time-slipping between their worlds, each influencing the other to produce great art. Hand’s descriptions of art and poetry as they are being made are breathtaking—“In front of me was a whorl of black and red, emerald vines and orange flame, a shifting wheel of shadowy forms like those cave paintings drawn in charcoal”—and her troubled, beautifully drawn characters make the heart ache. Ages 14–up. Agent: Martha Millard, Martha Millard Literary Agency. (Apr.)
- Mandy R. Simon
Merle is a first-year art student in Washington, DC. A talented painter and passionate artist, she becomes romantically involved with Clea, who shares Merle's passion for art. Things start to spiral downward quickly for Merle. She flunks out of her art program, is evicted from her apartment, and Clea breaks her heart. She takes to the streets and begins stealing aerosol paint cans from hardware stores, creating graffiti all over the city with the tag "Radiant Days." On the streets, she pairs up with a homeless musician who gives her a key to a lock house near the Potomac River. The lock house is a dry place for Merle to sleep but becomes a conduit for 1870s French poet Arthur Rimbaud to cross over. Seemingly drawn to Merle's similar passion for art and feelings of despair, Arthur connects with Merle, finding solace in a kindred spirit. Merle's scene is 1978 Washington, DC, while Arthur's story takes place during the Franco-Prussian war in 1870. Though the settings are very different, the gritty darkness of both characters' surroundings is evident throughout. It is easy to see why they are drawn to each other through emotions and art forms. Hand writes the scenes and characters well, but it is unlikely that teens will be drawn to this story without a special interest in poetry or art. This book is recommended for high school students with a passion for Rimbaud's poetry or romantics with a special penchant for all art forms. Reviewer: Mandy R. Simon
- Ellen Welty
Merle is a student in art school when she begins a romantic relationship with one of her teachers. When the teacher dumps her, Merle drops out of school and abandons her completed work, becoming a tag artist who signs her work "Radiant Days." She has the key to a lockhouse that a musician gave her so she would have a place to sleep and it is there that she meets Arthur Rimbaud, a poet who lived in Paris in 1870. His story is told in alternating chapters with Merle's story and they spend time together in the lockhouse, which serves as an apparent time portal. Their story, while romantic, is not a romance; a fact that may disappoint some readers. Both characters are gay and their connection is through art rather than through emotional or physical attraction to each other. Hand has taken a risk with this imagining and while it works some of the time, particularly with the descriptions of art and poetry as they are created, the suspension of disbelief is stretched to its limit trying to capture both voices effectively. Many teens will find the writing style challenging but it will be appreciated by those with a strong interest in art or in the poetry of Rimbaud, who was a major influence on the work of many contemporary musicians. Reviewer: Ellen Welty
A 20th-century teen artist and 19th-century French poet Arthur Rimbaud transcend time and place in this luminous paean to the transformative power of art. In September 1977, 18-year-old Merle leaves rural Virginia to attend the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C. Her drawings catch the eye of drawing instructor Clea, who initiates a romantic relationship with Merle. Overwhelmed by the sophisticated urban art scene, Merle drifts out of school. When Clea drops her, a homeless Merle desperately spray-paints her signature sun-eye graffiti across the city until she encounters a mercurial tramp who mystically connects her with the visionary Rimbaud, in the bloom of his artistic powers at age 16. Incredulous over their stunning time travel, Merle and Rimbaud recognize they are kindred spirits who live to create. Hand deftly alternates between Merle's first-person, past-tense story and a third-person account of Rimbaud during the Franco-Prussian War of 1871-72, laced with excerpts from his poems and letters. Suffused with powerful images of light, this intensely lyrical portrait of two androgynous young artists who magically traverse a century to briefly escape their equally disturbing worlds expands the themes of artistic isolation and passion Hand first introduced in Illyria (2010). An impressive blend of biography and magical realism. (author's notes; select bibliography) (Fantasy. 14 & up)