The Rags of Time


The concluding volume in a quartet of highly acclaimed novels that include A Lover's Almanac, Big as Life, and The Silver Screen

Maureen Howard's new novel is the last in a beautifully written and boldly structured cycle of four books, woven as a tapestry of the seasons, that critics have praised as "brazenly intelligent," "daredevil clever," and "raptly adventurous."

The Rags of Time tells of an aging Manhattan writer with an ailing heart who ...

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The Rags of Time: A Novel

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The concluding volume in a quartet of highly acclaimed novels that include A Lover's Almanac, Big as Life, and The Silver Screen

Maureen Howard's new novel is the last in a beautifully written and boldly structured cycle of four books, woven as a tapestry of the seasons, that critics have praised as "brazenly intelligent," "daredevil clever," and "raptly adventurous."

The Rags of Time tells of an aging Manhattan writer with an ailing heart who lives near Central Park, who is reviewing and examining both her own history and the lives she has imagined in her fiction. Interlaced are private rambles and public facts: daily strolls through the park; the tough love between her and the two men in her life, her husband and her brother; three mythmaking figures from history (Columbus, Walter Raleigh, and Frederick Law Olmstead) who matter prominently to her and her work; and updates on the lives of her fictional characters (an improbable mathematician, his lapsed artist wife, a woman historian in mourning).

A moving meditation on aging and death, on memory, forgiveness, and redemption, The Rags of Time is also, in its ambitious interplay of history, politics, art, and life, a book that explores the very necessity of telling stories.

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Editorial Reviews

Jess Row
Like all of Howard's work, The Rags of Time is extremely ambitious, not only in scale but also in points of reference. It incorporates, among other elements, detailed forays into the lives of Christopher Columbus, Sir Walter Raleigh and Frederick Law Olmsted; epigraphs from Donne, Kafka, Genesis, Henry James, Doris Lessing and Jacques Derrida; woodcuts by Durer; and prints by Goya. As such, Howard invites the reader to try to make sense of it all, to stare at the structure whole, as if at one of Joseph Cornell's boxes full of minutely arranged objects, and give it a name and a theme. But looking at her writing from this perspective misses the most interesting part: her sentences. No one writing in English today produces anything quite like them.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Central Park features prominently in this rambling final installment of Howard’s “Novels of the Seasons” quartet. Plagued by heart trouble, an aging novelist is confined to her New York apartment, with slow walks through the park as her only relief. “Soul-baring” confessions, many of them rants, are directed against Bush and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as the narrator weaves commentary on contemporary events with meditations on her past as a writer and political activist. These thoughts, blended with detailed descriptions of her walks, become entries in her daybook. Characters from previous novels in the series reappear: Artie, the math Ph.D. candidate and his painter wife; Sylvie, an elderly refugee from Nazi-occupied Austria; Marie Claude, a recently widowed American history professor. But the narrator’s main focus, in the most engaging passages, is three prominent figures: Christopher Columbus, Sir Walter Raleigh and Frederick Law Olmsted. Quotations and photographs flesh out learned reflections, but Howard’s digressions are too lacking in direction to hold our attention through the endless high-brow references. The marks of a master—beautiful prose and ambitious structure—are not enough to hold together the rich strands of this patchwork novel. (Oct.)
Library Journal
This is the remarkable culmination of Howard's four-season novel quartet (following A Lover's Almanac, Big as Life, and The Silver Screen). Mimi, in the autumn of her life, searches for a subject for her new redeeming work of fiction. In her daybook, Mimi recounts conversations with her brother and her husband, mourns the loss of soldiers in Iraq, describes her walks in Central Park, reflects on the history of explorers and artists (Columbus, Walter Raleigh, Frederick Law Olmstead), and slips into stories about a mathematician and his artist wife, an amateur historian who loses her husband, and a refugee from Nazi Austria. Mixing fact and fiction, writing several beginnings but stuttering from story to story and finishing none, Mimi continues to search for her last perfect, golden tale. Howard (winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award) weaves the stories into Mimi's narrative so seamlessly that the reader has to follow the threads of text carefully to sort out fiction from metafiction. VERDICT Engrossing but not easy; recommended for readers of postmodern works.—Amy Ford, St. Mary's Coll. Lib., Lexington Park, MD
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670021321
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 10/15/2009
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 1,488,714
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Maureen Howard's nine previous novels include Grace Abounding, Expensive Habits, and Natural History, all of which were finalists for the PEN/Faulkner Award for best American fiction. Her 1978 memoir, The Facts of Life, was the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award. She is a recipient of an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

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