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YONDER by Siri Hustvedt

YONDER

Essays

By Siri Hustvedt

Pub Date: May 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-8050-5011-6
Publisher: Henry Holt

In this slim medley, novelist Hustvedt (The Blindfold, 1992; The Enchantment of Lily Dahl, 1996) ranges freely from autobiography to Vermeer’s Woman with a Pearl Necklace to Dickens to The Great Gatsby. The fine title piece takes as its subject the dichotomy of here and there, and the space in between, or “yonder”: Hustvedt’s native Minnesota and her parents’ Norway, Norway and New York City, where she makes her adult home. She writes about time, space, early memory, or what we ascribe to memory. She wonders what the world is like from her child’s point of view, and considers children’s sense of place, their preference for order in repetition. (“Yonder” and “home” are the twin poles of the child’s universe, notes Hustvedt.) In “Vermeer’s Annunciation,” a flash of insight into the painting of a young woman trying on a string of pearls leads Hustvedt to seek inspiration for the Dutch artist’s composition and figurative gesture in Renaissance depictions of the announcement of the incarnation to the Virgin Mary. Then, in the early master Fra Angelico’s Annunciation fresco in Florence, she finds an image as motionless as Vermeer’s. “A Plea for Eros” considers the mysterious attraction of strangeness and enchantment Hustvedt is able to feel for her longtime lover. Less personal and memorable but showing Hustvedt’s appreciation for Dickens’s dense metaphorical structures is a longer, scholarly piece on his last finished novel, Our Mutual Friend. In the closing essay, on still life, Hustvedt locates the primacy of “things” in our experience of solitude and considers the immediacy of the great allegorical paintings of the Dutch. Later painters of still life wanted something different. As she writes epigrammatically: “I am not tempted by CÇzanne’s pears in Still Life with Ginger Jar and Eggplants, because they are not pears. They are forms in the space of my perception.” A strong collection. Hustvedt’s essays, like the ordinary objects she identifies as the genesis of still life, are “dignified by the metamorphosis we call art.”