A PLACE IN MIND by Sydney Lea

A PLACE IN MIND

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Following two books of poetry, Lea's first novel is a leisurely, evocative study of time, place, and a friendship between two men, set mainly in a remote village in Maine. The pivotal year is 1961--as narrator Brant Healey, having turned 70, looks back over his life and, like a craftsman in thought, tries to find some aesthetic shape and wholeness to it. Without any wife or family of his own--although his Bostonian parents left him independently wealthy--Healey has for decades been a kind of Hemingwayesque connoisseur of the pure sporting life. This means that he has continued to live in a Back Bay apartment (he is unemployed, though he has a Ph.D.) for much of each year, but for the remainder has gone to the place that matters most deeply to him, the rough-fitted "camp" (he bought it in 1929) on a trout river in McLean, Maine. It's here that Healey has hunted and fished, has gradually lost the subtle stigma among the locals of being an "outsider," and has formed a deep and lifelong friendship with the unlettered but wise Louis McLean--guide, woodsman, caretaker, and, in the case of the family-less Healey, soul-mate, fellow drinker, and boon woods companion. Oddly mismatched in education and social class, the two men are bonded again and again during their life together, and in his ruminative looking-back, Healey sketches the shape of those decades: the death of Louis' unhappy wife; Louis' drifting into an affair with another man's wife (and getting badly beaten up for it); and--closer to present time--the death of Louis' son in a merchant marine accident. Healey's own past, too, is sketched into the tapestry--most notably his passionate (and lost) love affair in 1921, which has had much to do with shaping the rest of his half-isolated, half-perfectionist life as an artist of comradeship and the outdoors. There's little here by way of a central, gathering action (Louis' death at end is more a quiet ceasing than a climax), but the novel is sculpted instead from life-shaped panels of mood, detail, and distantly remembered incident--with a good plenty of vivid but unpretentious hunting and fishing. Overall, ambitious and sensitive work about nature, fidelity, and the shoring up of ruins against their loss.

Pub Date: June 14th, 1989
ISBN: 684-19054-0
Publisher: Scribner
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