A weighty collection brings together artists and writers, along with their analysts and miseries.
Those who know Baumbach (B, 2002, etc.) are familiar with his universe, one where marriages are temporary while anxiety, miscommunication and half-siblings are forever. The title story is the opener here, a freight train of a tale in which the protagonist’s father spills his guts in an unwitting mea culpa. This dead father was a womanizing artist who conducted affairs throughout his life because “these women were the lubricating fluid that made my motor run as an artist.” The artist’s name is Hudson. Are we intended to notice that the cover illustration, a bold painting much like those described in the story, is by one Harold Baumbach? In fact, Baumbach’s entire collection, with its many references to the difficulties of the creative life and the confusions of human interaction, seems like a roman à clef, although what the key unlocks is less clear. It might be either Baumbach’s personal story, or the entirety of the modern human urban condition. In “Past Perfect,” our hero has an affair with a woman he’d fallen for 30 years earlier. In “Window in the Woods,” a college-age son attempts to seduce a classmate in his film studies class by means of his (the student’s) father’s avant-garde film work. And in “Bright is Innocent: Scenes from an Imaginary Movie,” we follow a bewildered protagonist as he’s thrown as the unwitting hero into a James Bondesque thriller. Baumbach also includes stories from his earlier collections Babble (1976: surreal stories of a strangely mature baby’s precocious adventures), The Return of Service (1979: the protagonist’s father as both opponent and umpire), and The Life and Times of Major Fiction (1987: about dissolving marriages and creativity).
Work from a master of short fiction.