Juan Manuel de Prada
Translated from the Spanish
by Paul Antill
Overlook Press: 248 pp., $24.95
“Things happen in Venice that common sense wouldn’t allow us to take seriously anywhere else in the world,” the unshaven chief of police tells our young art historian, who, hours after his arrival in that enigmatic city, finds himself involved in the art scandal of the century.
Allejandro Ballesteros, 29, has written his dissertation on the painting “The Tempest” by Giorgione. He has come to Venice to defend his thesis with a famous curator and professor of art. Instead, he finds himself, “a priest of art,” listening to confessions of collectors and forgers alike. Not one but three women are out to seduce Ballesteros (who must be quite good-looking), but he falls in love with the daughter of the curator. Fate forces him into a living tableau of the very painting he has been analyzing for five years.
Juan Manuel de Prada’s “The Tempest” is a bumpy ride, and some imperfections must be overlooked -- for example, a translation including phrases like “rapacious teeth,” which somewhat alter the music of the author’s intentions. The question is: Why, as Robertson Davies and many authors have discovered, does forgery make such good fiction? Lies, lies, all of them, lies.
Harcourt: 304 pp., $24
When all else fails, put a group of loosely related characters in an enclosed space and wait to see what happens. Add New Yorker-style neuroses (male and female), a mansion on the Hudson River and summertime, and you have a novel that is somewhere between reality TV and “The White Hotel.” Summer, says Billy, at 23 the youngest member of the seven-person party by at least 20 years, is “one of those things that you don’t really know is happening until it’s over. As if it were a strange form of locomotion.”
Is that a trite revelation? Or profound? You’re not sure, are you? Marcelle Clements’ “Midsummer” is like that. Readers will find themselves well into the moment-to-moment moods and thoughts of the four women and three men, many of them remarkably trite, bourgeois, even paranoid, but also human and profound and important. You want to know how they are going to get past their various sticking points, whether it’s the fear of getting old or the fear of being mediocre or the fear of growing up. How much can go wrong in a moment, in a glance, in a bit of banter? A lot. Especially in a novel with no context but the moment, and summertime.
Celebrating the Dolphin-Human
Edited by Toni Frohoff
and Brenda Peterson
Sierra Club Books:
362 pp., $24.95
Relationships are in the mind of the beholder. Toni Frohoff and Brenda Peterson’s “Between Species: Celebrating the Dolphin-Human Bond” takes the classic 1974 collection of essays, “Mind in the Waters,” compiled by Joanna McIntyre, one step further, asking not just about our effect on dolphins but how dolphins affect us, including studies on how dolphin-human contact can strengthen the immune system of the very ill.
Want to look at the scientific perspective? Read John C. Lilly’s essay, “Toward a Cetacean Nation,” in which he wrote, "[I]t is my deep feeling that unless we work with respect, with discipline, and with gentleness with the dolphins they will once more turn away from us.” Or from a writer-poet perspective? Read Peterson’s essay, “Slipstream.” Or how about an activist’s perspective? “The Dolphin’s Gaze” by Ben White is a graceful story of motivation and action based on love.
The collection includes essays by Jean-Michel Cousteau, artist Jim Nollman, author Linda Hogan and poet Richard Wilbur. It is a gentle book by people whose lives have been changed by their relationships with dolphins. Some of the writers want to be forgiven; others set free. A few, and these are the best, just want to tell you what it feels like to be made more human by their relationships with dolphins.