Frontlist | Briefly Noted Book Reviews “Trio,” “Hades, Argentina,” “The Mission,” and “Patch Work.”Frontlist | Briefly Noted Book Reviews “Trio,” “Hades, Argentina,” “The Mission,” and “Patch Work.”
on Feb 03, 2021
Trio, by William Boyd (Knopf). Following a producer, an actress, and a novelist, whose lives intersect during a film shoot in Brighton in 1968, this novel proceeds at a brisk clip, cutting from person to person. Boyd winks at the idiosyncrasies and vulgarities specific to each character’s métier, and at the precarious process of artistic creation—its joy, torment, stasis, and upheaval. Musing about the film, the actress says, “I think it’s about how art imitates life. And life imitates art. That’s the point.” “What on earth is that to mean?” her interlocutor replies. Boyd addresses these questions with tart humor and earnestness. When, after several gin-and-tonics, the novelist starts to see her book taking shape in her head, she feels that “life was suddenly worth living again.” Hades, Argentina, by Daniel Loedel (Riverhead). A phone call prompts the narrator of this haunting historical novel to return to Argentina a decade after the Dirty War, during which he fled to the U.S. Back in a country where “there are no dead . . . only disappeared,” he is flooded with memories of his life as a young man in the nineteen-seventies, working for the military junta in a brutal detention center while slipping information to his great love, a woman devoted to the regime’s overthrow. The novel weaves betrayal and sacrifice together so intricately that one cannot be disentangled from the other. The Mission, by David W. Brown (Custom House). Scientists believe that any extraterrestrial life in our solar system would most likely be found on Europa, a moon of Jupiter. This book chronicles the work of a tenacious team of researchers who have spent decades investigating that possibility, despite obstacles both bureaucratic (nasa’s long-standing preoccupation with Mars) and physical: Europa lies within a “pulsing, rippling” belt of radiation and is covered by an ice shell “kilometers thicker than any hole ever drilled on earth.” The effort is finally rewarded, in 2015, when nasa approves the Europa Clipper mission, which may bring us closer to answering existential questions: “What if there is life elsewhere? How would the human psyche handle its discovery? And if we find it, what do we do with it?” Patch Work, by Claire Wilcox (Bloomsbury). This memoir unfolds as a series of vignettes, each one as precisely constructed as an exhibit in the Victoria and Albert Museum, where the author works as a curator of fashion. Wilcox evokes the sensual and spiritual meaning in the fabrics we weave, wear, and leave behind: antique garments, tailored for owners long dead, whose linings and signs of repair provide conservators with “vital clues for our ghost bodies”; naphthalene-perfumed medieval felt hats and lost lappets from the eighteenth century; a purple grosgrain tunic made for Wilcox by her mother. The book also ventures far beyond the sartorial; Wilcox writes piercingly about the death of a child and of her parents, the delight and anxiety of motherhood, and the satisfaction of work well done.
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