Stories and Lines

By Mason, David | The Hudson Review, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

Stories and Lines


Mason, David, The Hudson Review


DARLINGTON's FALL, BY BRAD LEITHAUSER, is one of the best novels I have read in years-rich in characterization, compelling in the shape and drive of its story, intellectually and verbally diverse.1 Part of its daring is that it relates the mostly sedentary life of a lepidopterist, risking comparison to Nabokov as well as the alienation of readers who seek more fashionable fare. The other part of its daring is that it is written in rhymed verse.

Separating narrative and verse elements of such a work in order to discuss them would fail to convey how well they mesh; the novel is a better novel because it is in stanzas, and the lines are more interesting than 99 per cent of American poetry because they are about the world instead of some poet's fuzzy navel. As an overview let me say that Leithauser's story, which covers a period from the late nineteenth century to the 1930s, with flashes of our own era in an authorial voice, will remind you at times of poets like E. A. Robinson and minds as diverse as Darwin's, Nabokov's and the late Stephen Jay Gould's. You will at times forget you are reading verse because Leithauser enjambs lines so often that the rhyme and meter are disguised, yet you will never entirely feel that you are reading prose because the story is so skillfully abetted by his ten-line stanzas. And at all the right moments in the tale the verse will come singing through and leave you moved or entertained in a rare manner. This is, in short, a brilliant work, certainly one of the finest things by a writer of my generation, and though I have little space I wish to convey its success as thoroughly as I can.

Darlington's Fall is either Leithauser's fifth book of verse or his sixth novel, depending on how you count. Though I have always admired his skill as a verse-maker, I have not always been taken with his poems, which at times seemed merely decorous. I also knew him as someone who had received his laurels in advance of his career, as it were, inspiring the jealousy of other poets. With his fourth book of poems, however, The Odd Last Thing She Did (1998), Leithauser seemed to me to have added muscularity to the intellectual shapeliness of his poems. The title narrative was especially fine, as were shorter poems like "Blessing for Malcolm Lowry." With this new book, he has applied a poet's precision to a novelist's skeptical compassion, and he has done so in a nearly seamless way.

The novel's protagonist, Russel Darlington, begins his life in a sort of Midwestern Eden, enraptured by nature and its "jewels." In a moment of secret realization these impressions connect him both to the actual jewels of his dead mother and to the grief of his father, the remarkable John Darlington. It is this father, a prominent citizen of their town, who supports Russel's early fascination with butterflies. Eventually he introduces the son to another of Leithauser's strong characters, Professor Schrock, a scarred and disappointed man who, despite his harshness, fosters intelligent life in the boy. Leithuaser follows a whole career in science, from the moment one can exclaim "O brave new world / That has such people in it!" to the more jaded response: "'Tis new to thee."

Questions arise about destiny and accident, the purposes of existence and the place of evil, and Leithauser dramatizes these questions not only in the nature Russel examines, but also in his own life. Among many good scenes in the book, Russel's courtship of his college sweetheart, a portrait of a nerd falling in love, is particularly well done:

Signals? So too was Pauline's hair's perfume,

And the perhaps subtly enhanced redness of her lips;

So too her eyelids' flutter and the upstart bloom

Of her breasts; so too the feel against his fingertips

Of her firm warm arm and her body's pledge of a shared

Internal heat all forms of speech, extended

Metaphors in some root-language which

Predated words. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Stories and Lines
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.