The Plath/Hughes story has been told and retold almost to death, but Flannery O'Connor Award–winner Anderson (The Ice Age ) breathes brash new life into the iconic tale in this hypnotic and provocative novel. Anderson chronicles the aftermath of Plath's 1963 suicide from the perspective of real and fictional characters, notably Columbia-educated fiction writer Robert Anderson, who is forever changed by reading the Ariel poems. To him, Plath is untouchable, the sacrificial Joan of Arc. His Plath-infused account of social and political turmoil in New York from the Columbia riots of 1968 to September 11, 2001, is counterpointed by the story of Ted Hughes and his mistress, Assia Gutmann Wevill. Although Anderson makes it keenly obvious that he favors Plath, and he will ruffle plenty of feathers with his blunt partisanship ("What a bleak, anticlimactic, eschatological PR caper that Birthday Letters charade made for.... Ted made his last buck"), Ted is artfully portrayed as a man who felt he never really knew his wife. Assia, meanwhile, is the half-good poet who covets Plath's identity and ends up sharing her fate. Anderson's writing is electric, irreverent and erudite. The novel's only flaw is the erratic fugue between the masterful Plath/Assia/Ted passages and the sometimes convoluted Robert sections; Robert as character is occasionally subsumed by the character of New York, and the fundamental connection between Plath and her young acolyte is lost. Still, this is a fiercely imaginative effort, in which Anderson connects the intricate psychology of his characters with their art and the world around them. Agent, Ian Kleinert. (Dec. 28)
Forecast: Anderson's lack of piety—some might call it lack of respect—for his real-life protagonists will make this a controversial book; the quality of the writing will make it a novel to be reckoned with.
Release date: 12/01/2004