The attempt here—a novel as expansive as an almanac, with a bit of everything in it—raises Howard's latest sometimes to considerable heights but as often slows it to a crawl through lives and commentary not always interesting enough for the trip. Louise Moffett, b. 1968, comes to New York from Wisconsin to find her fortune as an artist, and in doing so becomes the lover (later the mate) of gifted ne'er-do-well Artie Freeman. We meet the two at a party on the last night of the 20th century—when Artie proposes but, due to extreme drunkenness, flubs the moment, offends Lou, finds himself exiled from her downtown loft—and retreats to his grandfather Cyril's Fifth Avenue apartment. Moving from winter solstice to spring equinox, Howard's novel follows the lovers as they mope, pine, and are reunited, while those same three winter months afford plenty of space to fill in family backgrounds. Lou's farmer-scientist father (a prof in animal husbandry) failed to understand his daughter's emerging art, her mother went underappreciated, and research scientist Aunt Bea provided a role-model of dedication to her calling. As for math whiz yet school-dropout Artie: His unmarried ex-hippie mother, now dead, never revealed who his father was, leaving Artie eternally in a paternity search; and his widowed grandfather, Cyril, after a Wall Street career, retreated into books of American history—emerging only to continue a romance begun 50 years earlier with Sylvie Neiswonger, who, at 12, fled the Nazis through a backyard in Austria after being raped by a German soldier. Throughout, Howard sprinkles bits of zodiacal lore, rhymes of planting advice, snippets of biographies (Edison, Haydn, Mendel) remarks about computers, electronics, the information glut—all symbolically converging in Lou's newest gallery show of family lore, trinkets, cast-offs, and (literally) broken hearts. A worthy gathering—sometimes Dos Passos, sometimes Faulkner, sometimes Howard—that would have offered greater pleasures, as almanac and otherwise, at, say, two thirds its length.
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