New and Selected Stories
Houghton Mifflin: 210 pp., $24
“That’s my story, no story at all: A boy and his father eat crullers.... Several times a week I am ten years old sitting in a booth at the Ideal Bakery, loving my tender father, who smiles across the tabletop.” “Willow Temple” is a collection of stories by New England poet Donald Hall that are connected, deep beneath their roots, by narrators and an author who wants very much to stop time and to see again the people and places he loved.
In the title story, a young man who grew up with the secret of his mother’s infidelity and grows up a cheater himself is a character who clearly wishes not just that his mother had not committed adultery, but that he had confronted her with his knowledge. A man taking his estranged son fishing in the places he fished as a boy wonders how he can “marry his son to the old world.” Hall is a master of the patterns we only see when looking back, patterns of drinking, loneliness and betrayal.
Writing in Place
From Buffalo to Berlin
Princeton University Press:
207 pp., $24.95
“Had my grandfather settled in Trebizond or Alexandria, this book about places persisting in memory might have been easier to write because those cities have the dusty glamour of old trade routes. But it was Buffalo where he settled....” Howe joins a lineage of well-loved writers, from Henry James to Jan Morris to W.G. Sebald, who wrote about place as a state of mind. He quotes Montaigne to describe his own way of remembering: “ ‘We need topographers to give us exact descriptions of the places where they have been.’ Such topographers should speak only of what they know directly.”
Howe’s descriptions of Paris and a ghostly Berlin are poignant because he has described his hometown, Columbus, Ohio. We cannot observe other places if we have not learned to observe our own backyards. “Home as habitation and as pilgrimage site must stand beside each other, my Paris next to my Buffalo. The value of crossing an inland sea, of traveling, lies partly in the way it redeems home by making it seem strange.”
University of Nevada Press:
273 pp., $20 paper
“The Master of Monterey” is the story of Commodore Catesby Jones, U.S. Navy, who, in 1842, believing erroneously that war had been declared on Mexico, seized the port of Monterey, with one ship, 44 canons and 600 men, and withdrew three days later. Jones hailed from Boston, was sent to sea at 14 by his father, returned to find the love of his life, Louisa Darling, betrothed to his brother and set out again full of a misplaced, I’m-going-to-show-them-all patriotic zeal.
As commodore of the ship the National Intention, Jones hired on a crew that Coates assembles for us in the manner of Sebastian Junger setting up “The Perfect Storm.” Among the cast are Hannibal, the young black boy sold to Jones when Hannibal disembarks from the Louisa Darling after a harrowing journey across the Middle Passage. Captain Rafael leaves several women, as is his custom, crying on the dock. Young William Waxdeck, a Latin scholar, describes the heroic mission of the National Intention from his berth, where he lies for most of the journey, seasick. As the first cannonball is in midair, Lawrence Coates turns his attention to the receiving end: the Mexican community of Monterey, where a reluctant and beautiful girl is being married off to an elderly don. The cannonball, for her, is a bolt from heaven.
This is a lively tale, told with one part humor, one part adventure and one part fact. The commodore himself is a resurrection of Ahab: He “gazed at the line that divided sea from sky as though it were a seam that would yawn open and display a new land ready for the shape of his desire.”