cover image Ticknor


Sheila Heti, . . Farrar Straus & Giroux, $18 (119pp) ISBN 978-0-374-27754-3

The rancorous, interminable friendship between a Great Man and his envious, self-pitying biographer drives this cleverly coiled narrative by Canadian author Heti (The Middle Stories ). As Heti notes, she has based this slender, first-person work on American George Ticknor's mid-19th-century biography of historian William Hickling Prescott, but the lonely, querulous voice of her invented George is all her own. The book opens as George steps out on a rainy Boston night to answer a rare, longed for invitation to dinner at the illustrious Prescotts of Beacon Street; he and William Prescott were childhood friends. The loss of an eye during a boyhood frolic galvanized William, who resolved to always overcome adversity—and cheerfully so. He has subsequently gained fame and admiration from his historiography and sunny nature. George, by contrast, is poor, morose and covetous. What he does possess is a terrible guilt, never expressed to William, about his possible role in the mishap that changed William's life. Heti's narrative is as deliciously intimate and clue-riddled as a Poe story. (Apr.)