THE ODD LAST THING SHE DID: Poems by Brad Leithauser


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The fourth collection by the novelist (The Friends of Freeland, 1997, etc.) and MacArthur fellow demonstrates the same formal fluidity and clarity of expression as his previous books. But Leithauser is still plagued by an unbearable lightness, a simplicity never elevated by wit or profundity, just boyish puns and an occasional burst of ecstatic lyricism. Leithauser stays fairly close to his announced subject--the relations of men and women--and mines his family history in support of his father's wisdom: ""Men and women? There's no end,/no end to what they'll do!"" His senile grandmother thinks a fellow old-age home resident is her long-dead husband; his father, wounded in war, displays old-fashioned gallantry on a streetcar; and his grandmother's sister, full of big-city dreams, turns to liquor after her beloved dies in WWI. The fine title poem, one of Leithauser's strong, Frost-like narratives, tells the story of a young woman's suicide in 1953--a fully imagined tale of a postwar Ophelia. A number of gentle lyrics celebrate the poet's wife--her eyes, an early kiss, words fumbled in love, and, on her birthday, a testimony of her strength. Poems about men among men seem to bring out Leithauser's puerility, especially an ill-conceived three-part tale of a friend's betrayal. Early memories of an astronomer uncle and beer-drinking with his father pale beside Leithauser's more impersonal poems: a deft portrait of an aging hunter, a clever play on words in honor of Malcolm Lowry, and a perfect lyric on the sky over Shiloh as reenactment of war. Always agreeable, but Leithauser's modest passions seldom compel.

Pub Date: Sept. 16th, 1998
Page count: 84pp
Publisher: Knopf