You find in your hands a work of great beauty, like Michael Joyce’s novel, Liam’s Going. It makes you uneasy. You feel like one of those Trojan elders chirping the perilous beauty of Helen. Send her back. You warily mention to a friend that you have discovered a 21st century novel of great lyric beauty. Right, she says, a baby born with a beard. That kind of fiction went out with Virginia Woolf. What about Michael Ondaatje and Margaret Atwood, you say.
OK, moments of lyricism, but very provisional and nervous.
Why don’t you let me tell you about this book.
OK, 300 words or less.
We have a husband Noah and a wife Cathleen. Cathleen is taking their son and only child to his freshman year in college. Noah is at home helping a very old neighbor Antoinette with an electrical problem. On the wall of Antoinette’s rustic lakeside Hudson Valley home hangs an extraordinary thing, a painting by Cezanne. Noah’s eyes fix upon it:
Across the room on the wall opposite the lakes there was a small painting in blues and the faintest yellow green, a landscape like a faded lapis lazuli. Though of land, it spoke of water and seemed exactly right there, so extraordinary that the whole room seemed to float toward it.
Noah paddles Antoinette in her canoe on the nearby lake. She recounts for him the winding family history that accounts for the presence of this object of extraordinary value in so modest a house. The painting is many things: an heirloom, a representation of natural beauty, a symbol of charmed age, a passage between land and water, a benign current of inward drift. It might serve as an icon for the whole novel.
Are you still with me?
Interested. 115 more words.
OK, Joyce’s magic tricks: indelible images; a syntax of rhythms within and across sentences, the way the percussionist talks to the strings; harmonic symmetries that tie the whole book together; recollections woven unconsciously into the intimacies of marriage; the history and topography of the Hudson River Valley, a spatial and temporal lode of romantic treasures. Also the subtle sheen of Eros polishing the texture of the book with a silken wash:
The best of his stories . . . involved a woman named Alearda, a painter and wood sprite who lived alone in a cabin along the Hudson beyond the railway tracks near Rhinecliff and whom he wooed in Italian and pidgin and flute music and apple blossoms.
Lush, but go on.
I’m out of words. I’ll get back to you in a week or so with more wonders of this book. Meanwhile, click on the image below to get it.