cover image BOTH: A Portrait in Two Parts

BOTH: A Portrait in Two Parts

Rebecca Kai Dotlich, . . Pantheon, $25 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-375-42266-9

This elegantly written story of the partnered lives of botanist Rupert Barneby and aesthete Dwight Ripley is steeped in enjoyable anecdotal detail. Poet and critic Crase (nominated for an NBCC award for The Revisionist ) draws on his own long friendship with Barneby to evoke Barneby and Ripley's luminous social circle, which included Peggy Guggenheim, W.H. Auden, Christopher Isherwood, Clement Greenburg, and Cyril and Jean Connolly. Crase languidly traces the chic pair's relationship from boyhood romance at English public school in the 1920s to joint botanical adventures in the 1940s American West and their eventual settled expatriate life in New York's intellectual, artistic and gay communities. Affairs and friendships are described without sensationalism, and Crase approaches both men respectfully, as having complex sensibilities. He includes excerpts from their exquisite prose on plants, snatches of Barneby's witty poetry and reproductions of drawings in each of their distinctive styles. Photographs heighten the sense of personality and period. Barneby emerges as a gentle, modest man at peace with himself, who remained dedicated to botany, making lone road trips to track down plants into his late 70s. The chronically blushing, self-conscious Ripley is a darker character, a dilettante polymath, neglected in childhood, attracted to eccentric bohemians and fated to alcoholism. By the time Crase met Barneby, Ripley was dead, at age 65, of cirrhosis of the liver. Writing with lilting appreciation and gentle humanity, Crase is clearly at home in this rarified aesthete's world, weaving a deft tapestry of interconnecting relationships that provides intriguing biographical detail for anyone interested in 1950s visual, poetic and critical culture. (Apr. 6)