sexta-feira, 24 de janeiro de 2014
A Farewell, Whispered and Roared
By Dwight Garner
MY BROTHER’S BOOK
By Maurice Sendak
Illustrated. 31 pages. HarperCollins. $18.95.
Maurice Sendak (1928-2012) cultivated an image as a curmudgeon. “I’m not Hans Christian Andersen,” he told Bill Moyers. “No one’s going to make a statue in the park with a lot of scrambling kids climbing up me. I won’t have it.”
Sendak had a particularly good, cranky run in the last year of his life. He appeared on “The Colbert Report,” ripping the current crop of children’s books as “abysmal.” He was interviewed by Emma Brockes in The Believer magazine, and he declared about e-books: “I hate them. It’s like making believe there’s another kind of sex. There isn’t another kind of sex.”
He was a hot mensch.
Anyone who’s spent time with Sendak’s best books — “Where the Wild Things Are,” “In the Night Kitchen” and “Nutshell Library” among them — knows that this querulousness was the salt crust on a deep and complicated well of feeling. He was also the man who said: “I cry a lot because I miss people. They die, and I can’t stop them. They leave me, and I love them more.”
Sendak’s posthumous new book, the last completed volume we are likely to get from him, is “My Brother’s Book,” written in memory of his brother, Jack, who died in 1995. This lovely if evanescent book — it deals with the great Sendakian themes of loss, danger and flight — also feels on an unspoken level like an elegy for his companion of a half-century, Eugene Glynn, who died in 2007. The line that hangs over it, spoken by a young man who has lost his brother, is this one: “A sad riddle is best for me.”
At the beginning of “My Brother’s Book” a great screaming comes across the sky. A new star slams into Earth, separating two brothers, Guy and Jack, and heaving them out of paradise. Jack is catapulted “to continents of ice.” He is “a snow image stuck fast in water like stone./His poor nose froze.”
Guy, on the other hand, goes tumbling down — he resembles a Merce Cunningham dancer — into “soft Bohemia” and into the lair of a polar bear who threatens to eat him “bite by bite.” Guy ultimately does allow the bear to devour him. In death he goes “sweeping past paradise” to rejoin his brother.
“My Brother’s Book” has echoes of Shakespeare’s “Winter’s Tale,” the play that contains the stage direction “Exit, pursued by a bear,” and it contains some of Sendak’s richest and most incantatory language. When Guy poses a sad riddle the bear cannot answer, we read:
“To hell with you then!” the bear uproared,
Shadowing the sky, bellowing up a whirlwind
And slanting wide the world to the winter side —
And with his mighty paws scattering himself
Into a diadem of noble stars
Befitting Ursa Major.
I happened to be reading and rereading this book during the recent East Coast snowstorm. (Sendak would have howled at the Weather Channel’s attempts to call it “Nemo.”) I was unable to shake the Robert Frost-like line “slanting wide the world to the winter side” from my head for days.
Sendak told Stephen Colbert that he never really wrote for children. “I write,” he said, “and somebody says, ‘That’s for children.’ I didn’t set out to make children happy.”
“My Brother’s Book” will, in fact, probably not make many children happy. It’s an elegiac volume that has little in the way of story; the hero isn’t as winsomely bossy and obnoxious as Sendak’s characters often are.
I disliked it my first time through; I found it a bit evasive, more artiness than art. I wasn’t sure that I cared about Jack or Guy, whose appeal we are supposed to take for granted.
Yet it’s a book that rewards repeat readings. Its charms are simmering and reflective ones. This moral fable may find its largest audience among adults.
Sendak’s drawings in “My Brother’s Book” have lost none of their surreal, unsettling potency. In her obituary of Sendak in The New York Times, Margalit Fox called Sendak “a shtetl Blake,” a description I cherish. Chagall’s influence, always apparent in Sendak’s work, is on display here as well.
Guy does not rise into heaven after being consumed by the bear. Instead Sendak writes:
Guy sank upon a couch of flowers
In an ice-ribbed underworld
Awash in blossoming gold from a new sun
Tumbling out dark long-ago clouds,
In caverns and corridors paved with painted petals
Wound round a wild cherry tree dusted pink.
Sendak breaks these sorts of spells with tidbits of nose humor. When Guy finally meets Jack again after five years, “he bit that nose — to be sure.” But for the most part this book is ruminative. On the final page the brothers sleep arm in arm. Guy whispers: “Good night/And you will dream of me.”
In his foreword to “My Brother’s Book,” the Shakespeare scholar Stephen Greenblatt notes how Sendak seems to have picked up on Shakespeare’s evocation, in “The Winter’s Tale,” of “unpathed waters, undreamed shores.”
I was put more in mind of a line from “Mansfield Park,” in which one of Jane Austen’s characters declares, “What strange creatures brothers are!”
Posted by Francisco Augusto Vaz Brasil at 10:16