cover image These Possible Lives

These Possible Lives

Fleur Jaeggy, trans. from the Italian by Minna Zallman Proctor. New Directions, $14.95 (128p) ISBN 978-0-8112-2687-5

In this eloquent, whimsical collection, Swiss novelist and short story writer Jaeggy (I Am the Brother of XX) flexes her nonfiction muscles. The book is compact yet expansive in its content, with three poetic essays focusing on the respective lives of three enigmatic writers—Thomas De Quincey, John Keats, and Marcel Schwob. Jaeggy gracefully offers up wildly diverse anecdotes and obscure facts, going from the authors’ rebellious grammar school days to the final moments before their mysterious deaths. Her narrative beautifully mimics the logic of dreams, seamlessly digressing from the main subject into unexpected territory, only to return back again. She explores the different muses, both human and inanimate, that shaped the lives and literature of these writers. Of De Quincey she writes, “The flaneur was driven forward by opium-fueled theological caprices,” noting wryly of some of his contemporaries, “Robert Southey experimented with laughing gas” and “Ann Radcliffe sought out huge quantities of indigestible food.” With playful exaggeration, she writes, “[Keats] was poor, according to W.B. Yeats, and couldn’t build a Gothic castle... which inclined him instead toward the pleasures of the imagination.” Each essay treats its subject matter tenderly and moves forward with the cadence of a meticulous and lyrical language.[em] (July) [/em]