Shelf Life: Blooms Eternal
November 30, 2011 |  by Lew Diuguid

The Paper Garden: An Artist Begins Her Life’s Work at 72, by Molly Peacock, A&S ’77 (MA) (Bloomsbury USA)

An established Toronto poet, Molly Peacock has rendered an intimate prose biography of an extraordinary English gardener, artist, and letter writer, Mary Delany, 1700–1788. Late in a rambunctious life, Delany created an art—she called it “mosaick”—by painting paper bits and cutting them into flowers that leap up from the page as though nature’s own. Along her petal-strewn path she linked up romantically with Lord Baltimore, befriended royalty, and intrigued Jonathan Swift. Peacock uses the letters to bring Delany to life and adds to the book’s sense of a collage by matching the import of its chapters with the artist’s images, reproduced prettily.

The Taker, by Alma Katsu, A&S ’04 (MA) (Gallery Books)

To borrow the famously misquoted Cole Porter line, “And though I’m not a necromancer,” those folks who are have here their answer—in The Taker, “Anything Goes.” The novel is complex chronologically, but at its root is an alchemist in ancient Hungary who achieved a potion for perpetuity. To extend the Porter metaphor, the heroine becomes a poster girl for “Love for Sale.” Her first taker, a beautiful lover in the Maine woods, does her wrong and she falls in with a fiendish cult of never aging fornicators living in Boston. But as the decades descend, she tires of never aging. It ends reminiscent of “Miss Otis Regrets,” the Porter tune in which the sweet young thing pulls a revolver from beneath her velvet gown and shoots her lover dead. In this case, though, she walls him up in the cellar.