Schubart’s latest (Panhead, 2012, etc.) peruses the photo-album–esque memories and experiences of a Vermont farm boy.
The protagonist of this dreamlike coming-of-age story, farm-boy David, is simple by disposition. David doesn’t so much come into the world as the world—in all its quotidian minutia—comes to him. David is naïve and calm, qualities discouraged by his grandmother, who lives in New York. She mothers him when David’s own mother recedes into postpartum depression. This novel, from start to finish, is David’s life, told objectively with great insight and generous detail. In fact, the narrative provides such a wealth of intricate information, readers may hunger for an actual plot. And while this lack of focus could be a purposeful attempt to stylize memory’s clouded nature—something that could work in a shorter piece—the experiment falls short when there’s an absence of a concrete storyline, conflict or character-driven momentum. Schubart, a gifted writer, uses beautiful language from the very beginning to set the scene: “They gaze at him, caught in silver halide, albumen and salt print memory, these relatives with their sad, dark eyes and sepia surroundings, Fragonard backdrops…and the reticence of hands.” But as the story moves forward, the vibrant, if somewhat purple, language grows dull. When dealing with memories and faded images—as this novel does—it’s best to have terra firma for readers, and unfortunately, this ambitious narrative offers no such placement.
Fans of detailed passages and sprawling life experience as seen from a composed and realistic perspective will enjoy; those who appreciate a linear plotline may not.