THREE NIGHTS IN THE HEART OF THE EARTH by Brett Laidlaw

THREE NIGHTS IN THE HEART OF THE EARTH

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A domestic first novel that pays its dues to James Joyce and the modern poets but that manages to claim a certain felt life of its own. Ulysses Turner Fraser (known as U.T.) is a New Englander transplanted to Minneapolis, where, tenured in English at the University, he has earned a minor reputation as an aging, frumpled, iconoclastic-passionate poet in the stamp of John Berryman. All is far from well at the heart of things, however, and the novel, covering three days in the life of U.T. and his family (echoing the one day of Leopold Bloom's), ends with U.T.'s Berryman-esque death-leap from a river bridge in the midst of a paralyzing winter storm. Narrated by Bryce, the younger of U.T.'s two sons (and a senior in high school), the novel weaves its Joycean way through the commonplace events of these three days with, by and large, a freshness of eye and lack of the unduly ominous: a local poetry reading with U.T. as featured reader; a trip taken by wife Bitsy to an art gallery; passages about older son Colin (a senior at the University) as he struggles with his own youthful novel-writing; scenes of U.T. with his students in class, and alone in his wonderfully grimy university office, accompanied only by his muse and doubts. Precisely why U.T. kills himself may not be wholly clear to the reader, and literary allusion and symbol are asked often to take the place of a more convincingly rendered despair. A family cat named Molly Bloom freezes to death when left unintentionally outdoors; a Matisse lithograph is stashed in a hall closet, ""behind the vacuum and ironing board,"" as if old-affirmative artistic spirits were one by one being removed from U.T. ""He was trying to create a new breed of poetic man,"" says Bryce of his father, though the real nature of this effort is less clear, and sometimes more overblown, than is Bryce's labeling of it; and shortcuts are taken elsewhere, sometimes clumsily, as when wife Bitsy says: ""--What's wrong, Ulysses? I can't remember seeing you this down."" An ambitious if often oddly mechanical novel, though with quiet pleasures of observed life pressing out around the cams and gears.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1987
Publisher: Norton