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An exploration of ‘the geography of spirit’; a Boston-based crime thriller

From "Visionary New England," Paul Laffoley's "Alchemy: The Telenomic Process of the Universe," 1973, oil, acrylic, ink, and vinyl lettering on canvas.Courtesy of Kent Fine Art, New York

Visionary New England

A gleam of white ghosts itself across a deep blue, stars captured over two hours with a camera placed on artist Caleb Charland’s chest as he lay on his back on the ground. Swaths of the deep mossy green—the forest color that most seems to glow—surround a glimmer of a figure in dusky sunset pink and blue, running or dancing or splashing through the woods in Angela Dufresne’s painting “Child of Nature.” Copper pennies constellate across a prison blanket in Sam Durant’s “Dream Map, Ursa Minor.” Michael Madore’s ink-and-watercolor drawings, bring fairy tales to mind, magic mountains, protector gardens. Candice Lin’s chthonic installations involve burnt sugar, dead mushrooms, dead silkworms, urine, porcelain casts of faces, feet. Such are some of the images that make up “Visionary New England” (MIT), a catalogue accompanying an exhibit by the same name currently on view at the DeCordova Museum in Lincoln through March, 2021. The contemporary artists explore and investigate New England’s rich and complicated tradition of “alternative belief systems, world building, and visionary enterprise,” according to Sarah Montross’s thoughtful introduction. The lush reproductions are contextualized by a series of illuminating essays, resulting in a provocative, multidimensional, and in moments, trippy experience of the region’s relationship with seeing beyond.


Geography of spirit

In her lucid and meditative new book, Chickasaw writer and environmentalist Linda Hogan writes of “a geography of spirit” where “our boundaries are not solid; we are permeable; therefore, even as solitary dreamers we are still rooted in the greater soul outside of us.” In “The Radiant Lives of Animals,” published by the Boston-based Beacon Press, Hogan writes, in poetry and essays, with elegant illustrations as well, of the abiding link between people, the land, the animals, the stars. She advocates for “the indigenous intelligence”: an intelligence that’s alert to the non-hierarchal connectivity of the human and the natural world. The cure for “soul loss,” she argues, is “written in the bark of a tree, in the moonlit silence of night, along the bank of a river, and in the voice of water’s motion.” She learns—and shares with us what she finds—from the wolves, the bears, the bees, the fawns, the winds, the dawn light, the wildflowers, and the stars. She offers a humbling approach to perception of the world and our place in it. “Nature is the creator,” she writes, “not the created.”


A local legal thriller

Investigative reporter and writer Hank Phillippi Ryan recently won the 2020 Anthony Award for Best Novel for “The Murder List,” a legal and psychological thriller about a Boston-based law student and her lawyer husband and manipulations of justice and of other people. The award is named for Anthony Boucher, a founder of Mystery Writers of America, and prior winners include Dennis Lehane, Sue Grafton, and Tony Hillerman. Ryan adds this to an already-long list of accolades and awards for her books, including five Agatha Awards, as well as Mary Higgins Clark, Daphne du Maurier, and Macavity awards, among others. And for her investigative reportage, the Newton-based author has won 37 Emmys and 14 Edward R. Murrow awards.

Coming Out

Nights When Nothing Happened” by Simon Han (Riverhead)

The Age of Skin” by Dubravka Ugresic, translated from the Croatian by Ellen Elias- Bursać (Open Letter)


Before the Coffee Gets Cold” by Toshikazu Kawaguchi, translated from the Japanese by Geoffrey Trousselot (Hanover Square)

Pick of the Week

Stef Kiper Schmidt at Water Street Bookstore in Exeter, New Hampshire, recommends “The Book of X” by Sarah Rose Etter (Two Dollar Radio): “If you like the stories of Kelly Link and Carmen Maria Machado but think, hey these could be weirder, this is for you. Can you deal with a woman whose torso is twisted into an X? What about a family that farms meat, like they have a meat quarry where the meat grows and they harvest it by cutting it out of the rock? It’s absolutely revolting. Have I lost you yet? Cassie wants to leave her small town, find love, community, and a job that fulfills her. Etter has written this strange and beautiful thing—both a polemic on the demands placed on women’s bodies and a truly moving story.”