Having held Noy Holland’s first book of short stories, The Spectacle of the Body
, in the highest esteem I was excited to get my hands on her first foray into the novel genre. I did expect to be blown away again by her beautiful language. And I cared little about plot or whether or not I understood a single word of what she wrote. I was only present in my reading for the astounding force of language she might again bestow. Noy Holland had already proven to me in the past to be an extremely gifted wordsmith but I could not imagine how she could pull off a similar feat spanning the breadth of an entire novel. An entirely impossible endeavor for most of us, and perhaps especially difficult considering the writing of hers I was previously accustomed to. But what began, still, as a certain confidence in her achieving again my confirmation of excellence slowly began to drift as I neared the halfway mark. I began sensing a desperation of sorts, a forcing rather than force, and was not sure if I was bringing too much of myself onto her page or if the text itself was sounding too much coerced. But I stuck with my reading, fearing my boding negativity rising, but remaining hopeful I might finally expunge this discharge anyway and return exuberant in my praise. But sadly this was not to be.
Rather than be viewed as being hyper-critical of this work, and perhaps unfair compared to the glowing praise heaped by others, I simply will reiterate the words her editor Gordon Lish wrote on the front jacket flap introducing her first published collection The Spectacle of the Body
. No one can possibly refute this Lish statement concerning, at the time, the most promising new writer in our midst. Sadly, for me, I am not sure what exactly happened with Bird
except that perhaps the old Gordon Lish was missing. I think his words that follow artfully establish the only point I want to make as well-worth reading.There was a time when the longest story in this book was known by the title of this book - for in a certain sense that story concerns the fabulous costume nature can construe from us when it has made up its mind to unravel us down to the last stitch of thread. But whenever Noy Holland went to read aloud from her work, there was an audience who heard her begin, "At night, we kept watch for turtles," and who, as if transfixed by an enchantress, would not leave their seats until - seventy-nine pages later! - they had heard Holland say, crooning in the manner of one who must give herself to song to keep herself from weeping, "We sat for the men with our hands in our laps with all that was ours in the parlor." To these ravished audiences, and to those to whom they hurried to send word of the amazement they had had the great good luck to be present for, it was "Orbit" - the name of one of the children whose mother's fantastic dying is central to the story's dreamy, rapturous motion - that came to identify for these persons an event unique, and inexpressibly strange, in their experience of literature. For literature, very literature, the heart's inmost speech in all its unexampled difference, is the thing this new young writer has been making, and, along with it, well before the publication of her first book, a name for herself as a force - indeed, as a divergence to be given every close notice. Nine adventures in the magic of narration, including the audience-retitled "Orbit," The Spectacle of the Body enacts a debut of the first importance and an invitation to feelings not felt in the absence of art.