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Darlington's Fall: A novel in verse [Paperback]

Brad Leithauser
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Sept. 23 2003
The hero of this one-of-a-kind novel is Russel Darlington, a born naturalist and an unlikely romantic hero. We meet him in the year 1895—a seven-year-old boy first glimpsed chasing a frog through an Indiana swamp. And we follow this idealistic, appealing man for nearly forty years: into college and over the Rockies in pursuit of a new species of butterfly; through a clumsy courtship and into a struggling marriage; across the Pacific, where on a tiny, rainy island he suffers a nightmarish accident; through the deaths of friends and family and into a seemingly hopeless passion for an unapproachable young woman.

Darlington’s Fall is ultimately a love story. It is written in verse that—vivid, accessible, and lush—imparts an intensity to the story and its luminous gallery of characters: Russel’s rich, taciturn, up-right, guilt-driven father; Miss Kraus, his formidable housekeeper; Ernst Schrock, his maddening, gluttonous mentor; and Pauline Beaudette, the beautiful, ill-starred girl who becomes his wife. Leithauser’s embracingly compassionate outlook invites us into their world—into a past so sharply realized it feels like the present.

In Darlington’s Fall, Brad Leithauser offers an ingeniously plotted story and the virtues long associated with his elegant stanzas: wit, music, and a keen eye for the natural world. His independent careers as novelist and poet come together brilliantly here, producing something rare and wonderful in the landscape of contemporary American writing: a book that bends borders, a happy marriage of poetry and fiction.


From the Hardcover edition.

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From Publishers Weekly

The lepidopterist Russ Darlington, who stands at the center of Leithauser's novel in verse, is torn between Wordsworth's nature ("Nature never did betray the heart that loved her") and Darwin's, with its vulgarized slogan, "survival of the fittest." Leithauser uses 10-line stanzas to take us from the Booth Tarkington-like Indiana of Russ's birth in 1888 to his second marriage, in the 1930s. Russ shows an early inclination to study nature and more specifically, butterflies, finding an ally in an eccentric Austrian exile, Professor Schrock, who tutors him in German and natural science. At Old University, it becomes clear that Russ is meant to be a professor. Unfortunately, he falls for and marries the flirtatious Pauline Beaudette, who is surely not meant to be a professor's wife. But before their temperamental differences become too evident, Russ sets out for Malaya to collect butterflies. He never makes it. On the Pacific island of Ponape, hunting a stray Morpho, he falls and is crippled. Once he comes home, he separates from Pauline, making a bachelor nest with his father. Leithauser leads us up to the 1930s, when Russ, alone and debilitated, proposes to his maid, and then, in a long coda, he combines Russ's dream on the night before his second marriage with Leithauser's own journey to Ponape. Russ's vision of life as "a sort of swap-shop/ an auction run without an auctioneer" is a view of chance and selection regretfully purified of Wordsworthian sentiment and very much in tune with our own neo-Darwinian times. 12 line drawings by Mark Leithauser. (Mar. 27)Forecast: Though Leithauser's latest is more accessible than its form might suggest, it lacks the sense of urgency and invention that encouraged readers of Anne Carson's Autobiography of Red to brave a book-length poem. For inveterate fans only.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Leithauser is a rare literary talent, equally at home in verse or prose, as shown by his distinguished publication record five novels, four books of poetry, and one book of essays. His latest effort is a successful hybrid of all his talents: a novel in verse that is sumptuously detailed, highly readable, and studded with authorial intrusions revealing Leithauser's biographical connection to the events of the narrative. Leithauser tells a powerful love story centered on Russ Darlington, an Indiana entomologist and child prodigy whose career was cut short by a tragic accident on a Polynesian island. That was his first "fall"; the second was falling in love with his beautiful young housekeeper, Marja. The lucky reader will delight in the "dailiness and rootedness" of the narrative and the occasional transcendent "moment of dizziness stirred by sympathy." Strongly recommended for all collections. Daniel L. Guillory, Millikin Univ., Decatur, IL
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A Novel in Undaunting Verse Nov. 16 2002
Format:Hardcover
Novels in verse are fairly rare: Pushkin's 'Eugene Onegin', Vikram Seth's 'The Golden Gate', and Nobelist Derek Walcott's 'Omeros', come to mind. This novel is composed of ten-line stanzas with a rhyme scheme that mandates each line-end have a rhyme-mate somewhere in the stanza, but these ryhmes occur in irregular places, e.g. ABCCADDEEB, as in this sample verse, chosen at random from page 161:
(Nothing on earth, surely there's nothing on earth,
So hopeful, so suggestive of some gilt, goaled kindness
Or mercy at the heart of Nature than the notion
Of convergent evolution--
This thought that the ranged obstacles to any birth
Are immaterial and can be sidestepped . . .
The eye, for instance--look how Nature kept
Contriving it anew, freshly seeing its way
Out of the darkness--as if, at the end of the day,
The mind were _destined_ to escape from blindness.)
The language used tends to be only slightly elevated in tone, and conversational American English creeps in comfortably. Other reviewers have summarized the plot about the life of a boy prodigy who becomes a lepidopterist, has a terrible fall on a remote Pacific Island that cripples him. The protagonist is a gentle, lovable man whose training in Darwinian concepts leads him to accept the randomness and cruelty of life, but whose Wordsworthian love of Nature is never dimmed. I found the plot to be quite involving (as well as involved) and I had trouble slowing down my reading to savor the poetry.
A book to be treasured and re-read.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly engaging June 6 2002
Format:Hardcover
I was initially attracted to this book because I HAVE been to Ponape (now known as Pohnpei) and was surprised to find the obscure island a location for a novel. I was further intrigued by the idea of a novel in verse form (although I must admit that this aspect alone might have led me to avoid it). I'm glad I didn't. The verse is musical without being obvious, distracting (or obtuse), and the story is an interesting one--a love story on many levels and one that makes insightful observations about human nature, natural selection, adaption and evolution. Despite the joy it brought me, I did find myself at times wanting more--more detail, more exploration, more connection between the "writer" and his "subject." But that is a minor complaint, for a book that surprised me in so many ways.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful Emotion April 29 2002
Format:Hardcover
What a wonderful combination of left brain and right brain this book is. It communicates in ways that no novel or poem ever could. No poem could have the emotional drive of this story with these characters - and yet the verse does much to heighten that drive in the most dramatic sequences. No novel could match the satisfying, complexly intelligent structure of this verse - but the sweep of this novel allows for intellectual explorations which - for me at least - no poem could ever support. Actually, I've never been a fan of long poems before, but I found the verse here very accessible - it supports the characters and the story, rather than simply calling attention to itself. I really enjoyed this book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Jewel of the World April 25 2002
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
My book club had expressed interest in reading poetry in addition to the novels. Brad Leithauser's Darlington's Fall, a novel in verse, proved to be the perfect selection. One savors the language while being engrossed in the story. While dissecting such elements of prosody as proximate versus exact rhymes, one can also engage the big questions of science and daily life and love. Poetry suffuses the work, but it never slows the reader down. The illustrations, which announce each chapter, done by Brad's brother, Mark Leithauser, marvelously exhibit the antic style and love of detail that is found in Brad's writing. This book succeeds on so many levels that the reviewer can only provide the barest hints of the jewels to be found. You really have to read it yourself
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Magic of Prismatic Charms April 17 2002
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
I couldn't help wondering as I read this book whether there's a limit to the worldly (and other-worldly) charms to which Leithauser seems to hold the key. I concluded there isn't.
I've never been to either Indiana or Ponape, but having tracked Russ Darlington's life, I now feel comfortable claiming to know both places. "Darlington's Fall" is a magical journey through beautiful landscapes and weighty terrain. It's certainly a trip worth taking.
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