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Christopher Benfey in the New York Review of Books

reviews

Brookland is most obviously a historical novel, painstaking in its carefully researched and vividly imagined reconstruction of a vanished world, peopled by families with old Brooklyn names like Schermerhorn, Joralemon, and Hicks. But it is also a novel about the fragility of family ties, about ghosts””architectural as well as human””and about the sacrifices that artists are willing to make in order to fulfill their dreams…

– Christopher Benfey, the New York Review of Books on Brookland

Brookland is most obviously a historical novel, painstaking in its carefully researched and vividly imagined reconstruction of a vanished world, peopled by families with old Brooklyn names like Schermerhorn, Joralemon, and Hicks. But it is also a novel about the fragility of family ties, about ghosts””architectural as well as human””and about the sacrifices that artists are willing to make in order to fulfill their dreams… Emily Barton has written of her admiration for George Eliot’s novels, especially the “long, discursive chapters” of The Mill on the Floss, in which, as in Brookland, “a difficult protagonist… ultimately loses the fight.” The reader may long to give advice to Maggie Tulliver and Prudence Winship, to warn them to choose a more suitable mate or to settle for less in their chaotic lives. But as I finished reading Brookland, it was Willa Cather who came most insistently to mind””Cather whose first novel, Alexander’s Bridge, is also about a heroic designer with outsized ambitions whose flaws are projected onto his great bridge. In several of her subsequent novels, Cather addresses another of Barton’s themes, the human cost of success for a woman artist. Cather’s The Song of the Lark charts the strange emptying out of the successful artist’s personal life as the imaginative life comes to dominate her existence. “Her artistic life,” as Cather observed, “is the only one in which she is happy, or free, or even very real.” This is Prue’s fate as well, so difficult for her sisters and daughter to fathom.

on Brookland

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