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A debut novel set in Maine, an electrifying catalog of the MFA’s postponed Cy Twombly show, and a book of animal rhymes

Cy Twombly's "Leaving Paphos Ringed with Waves (III)" from the Eli and Edythe L. Broad Collection, Los Angeles.MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS BOSTON

Sheer velocity

The Museum of Fine Arts was scheduled to present an exhibit of the work of Cy Twombly, he of the rich, flaming scrawls on classical themes, to open this past July, but pandemic disruptions postponed it. To tide over Twombly fans until the paintings can be seen again in person, an elegant and comprehensive exhibition catalogue has been published by the MFA Press. “Making Past Present” contextualizes Twombly’s singular gestural verve. “Modern Art isn’t dislocated,” he wrote in an early grant application, “but something with roots, tradition and continuity. For myself the past is the source.” In his deranged handwriting, Twombly scribbles the names of gods, goddesses, heroic figures, Athena, Hercules, Thetis, Zeus, as though clutching a crayon in his fist. A beating sense of blood and time pulses from his canvases, a frenzied aliveness. His are works of heat, blooming blasts not so much of pure color, though that, too, but of energy, an energy of one hand being moved by the force of stories in Time. Anne Carson, in the essay she contributes to the book, bringing together the work of Twombly and the lyric poet Catullus, refers to the “sheer velocity” of Twombly’s work. Their work, she writes shares the ability “to out and frame for you a microblast of ‘now.’”


A luminous debut

Set in a fictional Maine town, Meredith Hall’s austere and luminous debut novel “Beneficence” (Godine) follows the Senter family, a farming family, a family working to stay above water in the aftermath of a tragedy, through 18 years in the center of the 20th century. Hall’s sentences are short; she uses simple words; the prose is without flashy distraction, no artifice, clear as a shovel face, real as the smell of a barn, true as the lines on the faces of the people you love. It is a book, in large part, about rhythms and work, the way work can serve not as distraction, not as punishment, but as salvation. Hall’s characters—the book shifts between each family member’s perspective—are attuned to the movement of the year, their lives tied to weather, crops, breeding, bleeding. “The rain set in this morning. The cows were in, the pastures too muddy. The barn was heavy with their smells. I have rhythms here that rescue me.” People stay together, fall apart, come back together, altered. It is a book about work, about grief, about thick ongoing love. Hall’s prose is hewn, sinewy, with moments of electrifying beauty and grace.


Rhyming menagerie

Ninety-two-year old Manchester, Mass., resident Katharine Stanley-Brown Abbott made her grandchildren laugh with her rhymes about all kinds of creatures, and she decided to share the laughs with a wider audience of kids. “A Zoo Full of Rhymes” (SDP) is a whole big bestiary of a book—a pheasant, a toucan, a dugong, a lynx; a cheetah a white hen, a quetzal, a spitz—with 38 different animals and their various whimsies and woes. Lively illustrations by Kristin Richland complement the frisky wordplay and bring the whole zoo’s worth of creatures alive. “Centipedes have a hundred legs. The number seems quite shocking. Do you suppose, when they get cold, they wear one hundred stockings?” This is Abbott’s second rhyme-based children’s book; her first, “Cobblestones and Ice Cream Cones—A Trip to Nantucket in Rhymes” (Kase), came out last year.


Coming Out

Ghostways: Two Journeys in Unquiet Placesby Robert MacFarlane and Dan Richards (Norton)

Rosettaby Karina Borowicz (Ex Ophidia)

Rest and Be Thankfulby Emma Glass (Bloomsbury)

Pick of the Week

Carin Pratt at the Norwich Bookstore in Norwich, Vermont, recommends “Owls of the Eastern Ice” by Jonathan C. Slaght (FSG): “Giant Fish Owls (wingspans can reach more than 6 feet) who look like feather-studded bears and hoot in duets. I’ll never see one, as they live in far Eastern Russia, but I thoroughly relished my time reading about them and their indefatigable and stoic researcher. Slaght spent five years traipsing over the snowy and slushy habitat of the elusive owls and this is his tale—a combination of adventure, rigorous science, and dedicated conservation.”

Nina MacLaughlin is the author of “Wake, Siren.” She can be reached at nmaclaughlin@gmail.com.