Books

Like most biographies, Brian Hall’s charming account of his daughter Madeleine begins at her birth. But unlike most biographies, it concludes with her third birthday. Along the way, it describes Madeleine’s intriguing transition from infant solipsism through toddler self-absorption to a small person’s sociability. Drawing on the same subtle humor and eye for detail that imbued I Should Be Extremely Happy in Your Company, his acclaimed novel of the Lewis and Clark expedition, Hall gives us a look at Madeleine’s milestones: her first laugh, first words, first tantrum, and brings it all to life from the inside out. By speculating on his daughter’s perceptions and experience as she grows, Hall gives us candid and informed insights into the evolution of language, attachments and separations, and a youngster’s curiosity and fear. What emerges is a portrait of growing consciousness in action, a universal voyage whose every revelation and frustration is captured with stunning detail and intimacy.

“Guaranteed to renew your sense of wonder whether or not there’s a young child in your life… Hall seeks to enter the interior world of a developing mind. And he succeeds brilliantly.” – Newsday

“Hall brims with imaginative and convincing interpretations of his daughter’s every eye-movement from birth onwards, his antennae sharpened—but never biased—by love… One re-experiences the world through Madeleine’s eyes, and her closing words about death are so full of human hope I cried.” – The Observer

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark’s expedition to the Pacific Ocean and back in the early part of the nineteenth century is one of the most famous journeys in American history. Previous accounts have largely romanticized the expedition, treating it as a great triumph. But was it? What really went on in the minds of these brave men and those who came with them?

Novelist Brian Hall has been interested in Lewis and Clark for years and became convinced that the most effective way to tell their story would be in the intimate, revelatory voice of fiction. Rather than attempt to recount the entire expedition, Hall has chosen instead to probe the psyches of its participants and to focus on some of the more emblematic moments of the journey. His narrative is shaped around and informed by an examination of the collision of white and Native American cultures at that time. To be true to this theme of colliding perspectives, he has written the novel in four voices. The primary one is that of Lewis, the troubled and mercurial figure who found that it was impossible to enter paradise without having it fall around him. The voices of the Shoshone girl Sacagawea, whose courage and resourcefulness helped ensure the expedition’s completion; William Clark; and Toussaint Charbonneau, the French fur trader who took Sacagawea as his wife, add further texture to the narrative.

On the eve of the two-hundredth anniversary of the Lewis and Clark expedition, Hall has used the novelist’s art to produce a compulsively readable book that fills in the gaps and provides a new perspective on this great American story.

Praise:

“A spellbinding prose stylist [who] writes with the kind of ethereal, poetic sweep found in the historical novels of Michael Ondaatje and Wallace Stegner.” – Los Angeles Times

“Artful layering and flawless pacing transform a monolithic legend into a quixotic, heartbreaking story, one you enter rather than salute.” – The Boston Globe

“Fascinating, multifaceted… Hall’s magnum opus of a historical novel makes hugely enterprising use of first hand accounts of the pioneering journey.” – The New York Times

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.