LANDSCAPE: MEMORY by Matthew Stadler


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An intelligent first novel--presented as a homoerotic teen-ager's diary/sketchbook--that captures the mood of San Francisco circa 1915 in lyrical, precious prose. Stadler pulls off a stunning trick here, beguiling us with Maxwell, the narrator, his thoroughly modern mother and father, and the charms of San Francisco during its second flowering--the golden years between the 1906 earthquake and the sobering up caused by WW I. Period description and boyish enthusiasm flavor the writing as Max explores the Pacific Exposition with best friend Duncan, son of a Persian sculptor. Heartbreak comes early, though, when Max's father goes across the Bay to Bolinas to pursue his bird-watching. After that, events and foreshadowings overload the novel's collage-like structure: There's Max's struggle against schizophrenia, which leads to his obsession with memory and landscape; his blossoming idyll with Duncan; and, in counterpoint, letters from Max's uncle, a surgeon coping with the carnage at the front lines of the Great War. It would take a heroic juggling act by Stadler to preserve the integrity of this novel against so many Big Themes; the characters also suffer a disappointing tendency to lapse into 1980's-style ""relationship-speak."" But the main flaw becomes apparent only after the tragedy that we know has been coming: Duncan's death by drowning. The collage technique that attempts to make major connections through artifacts such as song lyrics, poems, letters, and, especially, its 36 illustrations fails to give us any fully drawn characters except for Max. We can't properly mourn the Persian boy, Duncan, who has little to do except function as a kind of beefcake pinup. Flawed though it is by draughts of narcissim and nostalgia, this nonetheless deserves to be saluted for the ambition of its themes and the author's lyricism. A Separate Peace for another time and place.

Pub Date: Sept. 11th, 1990
Publisher: Scribners