cover image The Beauty of the Husband: A Fictional Essay in 29 Tangos

The Beauty of the Husband: A Fictional Essay in 29 Tangos

Anne Carson. Alfred A. Knopf, $24 (160pp) ISBN 978-0-375-40804-5

After the Canadian classicist, polymath and MacArthur ""genius grant"" winner's much-acclaimed verse-novel Autobiography of Red (1997)--and exactly a year after Men in the Off Hours--comes a second book-length, mostly-narrative poem: this charming, edgy, insistently intertextual and finally heartbreaking sequence about unlikely courtship, modern marriage, divorce and ""primordial eros and strife."" The 29 short chapters Carson calls ""Tangos"" imagine and analyze, in jaggedly memorable verse, the ill-starred romance between the narrator and her charismatic, needy and unfaithful husband, who writes her romantic letters in her teenage years, introduces her to his tragic friend Ray, cheats on her with women named Merced and Dolor, takes her on a tour of the Peloponnese and begs her to reverse her decision to leave him. The plot emerges through Carson's meditative, elusive fragments, mysteriously isolated couplets, excerpts from versified conversations and letters, interior monologues and (as Carson's readers have come to expect) digressions on matters of classical scholarship. This kind of thing is imitated badly and often by others, but Carson's phraseology within poems remains her own: ""Rotate the husband and expose a hidden side,"" she urges early on; later, ""words// are a strange docile wheat are they not, they bend/ to the ground."" And if some of Carson's devotees seek just such cryptic moments, others will want, and get, more direct shows of emotion: ""Proust/ used to weep over days gone by,"" she asks the reader, ""do you?"" (Feb.) Forecast: Carson was the subject of a New York Times Magazine feature this year--she is one of the very few poets writing now to cross over into trade-like sales. The wave of publicity may have crested, but this book should be well reviewed, and name recognition should kick in if the book is displayed along with current fiction, which the subtitle obviously encourages.