cover image BIG AS LIFE: Three Tales for Spring

BIG AS LIFE: Three Tales for Spring

Maureen Howard, . . Viking, $23.95 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-670-89978-4

With a sharpshooter's eye and brilliantly attuned sensibility, Howard considers the implications of the spring season in the second in a projected series of works (after A Lover's Almanac) inspired by the natural world. In tensile, beautifully articulated prose, she reveals the souls of people who reflect on renewal and redemption in three richly conveyed settings. In the "April" section, a young woman inherits the house where she lived for a while as a child with two eccentric maiden aunts and brooded in a secluded turret. Ruminating on her ancestors and the play of nature in their lives, the adult Marie Claude also muses on her own life and the future of a new relationship. A rich, elegiac tone pervades "May." Nell Boyle, an 18-year-old Irish beauty with secret shames and hidden sins, is sent to live with her wealthy cousins in America and becomes a wary observer of their dysfunctional family. Watching as her innocent young cousin Mae's burgeoning religious fervor is squelched by the reserved, upper-crust Boyles, Nell contrasts the adult Mae's conventional but heartbreakingly empty existence with her own unhappy past. In the tripartite "June" section, Howard examines the sacrifices required by passionate commitment. The extraordinary life of nature artist John James Audubon is seen through the eyes of his long-suffering wife, Lucy. "Salvino" revisits Artie and Louise, from A Lover's Almanac, again reflecting the interplay of nature against a background of academia in its most political incarnation. The final panel, "Myself," is a crisp quasi-memoir, revealing Howard's own "landscape of memory" of the flora and fauna that had a significant impact on her imagination. Howard's language is fresh and energetic, her metaphors luminous. Her narrative method—filtered vignettes, shadowy implications, layers of complexities, delayed explanations—results in challenging, adventurous literary fiction. Agent, Gloria Loomis. (May 21)