Fantastical, atmospherically moody and Poe-like in its laudanum-fueled dreaminess.

PREPARING THE GHOST

AN ESSAY CONCERNING THE GIANT SQUID AND ITS FIRST PHOTOGRAPHER

An investigation of our first encounters with the giant squid, a creature “more bizarre than anything appearing in Star Wars.”

Poet and creative writing teacher Frank (The Morrow Plants: Poems, 2013, etc.) moves like a wraith around the myth, superstition and spirit of the giant squid—and not as a single-subject exploration but through the conjured memory of Moses Harvey, a preacher in Newfoundland during the mid-1800s. Harvey had heard stories of the beast—a kraken, a devil-fish that lived up to its name—and one morning in 1874, he was able to lay eyes on one. It was washed ashore, dead, but damn if he wasn’t going to commune with the creature up close and personal. He paid some men to carry the squid to his tub—“Nothing says domestication like a giant squid strung over a clawfoot bathtub”—before he said farewell and shipped it off to Yale for safekeeping. Surrounding the event is a great embroidery of story: “I am mythmaking, I suppose,” writes Frank, and he does it with transporting authority. Readers walk through the cold, pins-and-needles rain that falls forever in Newfoundland and perambulate the town as Frank walked it in modern times. The author concocts the background out of whole cloth, an imagined scenario. Though there are facts enough to keep it real, there are also moments in which there is a strong sense of the unconscious at work. “Somewhere, in the recesses of these recessive versions of our dominant truths,” writes Frank, “behind a daisy chain of lanterns and Darwin’s theories drunk and conga-lining, Rudolph Valentino was blond.” This track eventually wends its way back to myth and Newfoundland.

Fantastical, atmospherically moody and Poe-like in its laudanum-fueled dreaminess.

Pub Date: July 7, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-87140-283-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: May 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2014

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Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it’s poignant, thoughtful and moving—and likely to become a...

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H IS FOR HAWK

An inspired, beautiful and absorbing account of a woman battling grief—with a goshawk.

Following the sudden death of her father, Macdonald (History and Philosophy/Cambridge Univ.; Falcon, 2006, etc.) tried staving off deep depression with a unique form of personal therapy: the purchase and training of an English goshawk, which she named Mabel. Although a trained falconer, the author chose a raptor both unfamiliar and unpredictable, a creature of mad confidence that became a means of working against madness. “The hawk was everything I wanted to be: solitary, self-possessed, free from grief, and numb to the hurts of human life,” she writes. As a devotee of birds of prey since girlhood, Macdonald knew the legends and the literature, particularly the cautionary example of The Once and Future King author T.H. White, whose 1951 book The Goshawk details his own painful battle to master his title subject. Macdonald dramatically parallels her own story with White’s, achieving a remarkable imaginative sympathy with the writer, a lonely, tormented homosexual fighting his own sadomasochistic demons. Even as she was learning from White’s mistakes, she found herself very much in his shoes, watching her life fall apart as the painfully slow bonding process with Mabel took over. Just how much do animals and humans have in common? The more Macdonald got to know her, the more Mabel confounded her notions about what the species was supposed to represent. Is a hawk a symbol of might or independence, or is that just our attempt to remake the animal world in our own image? Writing with breathless urgency that only rarely skirts the melodramatic, Macdonald broadens her scope well beyond herself to focus on the antagonism between people and the environment.

Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it’s poignant, thoughtful and moving—and likely to become a classic in either genre.

Pub Date: March 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0802123411

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

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LAB GIRL

Award-winning scientist Jahren (Geology and Geophysics/Univ. of Hawaii) delivers a personal memoir and a paean to the natural world.

The author’s father was a physics and earth science teacher who encouraged her play in the laboratory, and her mother was a student of English literature who nurtured her love of reading. Both of these early influences engrossingly combine in this adroit story of a dedication to science. Jahren’s journey from struggling student to struggling scientist has the narrative tension of a novel and characters she imbues with real depth. The heroes in this tale are the plants that the author studies, and throughout, she employs her facility with words to engage her readers. We learn much along the way—e.g., how the willow tree clones itself, the courage of a seed’s first root, the symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi, and the airborne signals used by trees in their ongoing war against insects. Trees are of key interest to Jahren, and at times she waxes poetic: “Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” The author draws many parallels between her subjects and herself. This is her story, after all, and we are engaged beyond expectation as she relates her struggle in building and running laboratory after laboratory at the universities that have employed her. Present throughout is her lab partner, a disaffected genius named Bill, whom she recruited when she was a graduate student at Berkeley and with whom she’s worked ever since. The author’s tenacity, hope, and gratitude are all evident as she and Bill chase the sweetness of discovery in the face of the harsh economic realities of the research scientist.

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-87493-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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