A leisurely, episodic, lightly and sympathetically fictionalized account of the life of Robert Frost.
Frost was famously beetle-browed, iconic, irascible, so much so that he was easily reduced to caricature in his own time. Hall (I Should Be Extremely Happy in Your Company, 2003, etc.), who writes that he approached his latest novel “in the spirit of a biographer who wanted to stretch his usual form to accommodate more speculation than nonfiction generally allows,” does a fine job of adding depth and dimension to our view of the New England master (who made news only recently when partygoers trashed a farmhouse in which he once lived). Biographers have worked the essential themes of Frost’s loneliness and isolation, which pervade his poetry but are not often the stuff of textbook headnotes; Hall traces them further, to the sorrow of loss, the suicide of a son and the madness of a sister. His narrative hops back and forth over the decades, from roughly 1900 to the early 1960s, and partakes richly of the historical record, including Frost’s much-noted friendship with Russian ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin, as well as his tour, in 1962, of the Soviet Union, which gave Frost (and gives Hall) much opportunity to vent spleen on the matter of totalitarianism. (Frost was against it.) The voice shifts, too, though never disconcertingly, drawing in a range of minor characters such as the acolyte, foil and butt of abuse known only as The Younger Poet (“The Younger Poet drives them through quaint olde Dublin streets, to which Frost pays no attention”). Much of what happens in this eventful novel occurs in the Frostian interior, as when the nature of guilt is pondered via a “longish” poem about middle age shading into old age: “It’s about a middle-aged couple, long married, wearied, wary, moving into a country house. They’re uncertain they’ve made the right choice, they’re a bit scared by the loneliness and the dark.”
A rich, contemplative and rewarding exercise in the biographical novel.