Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed,
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimmed:
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall Death drag thou wander’st in his shade…
With the month of May came spring, the blooming trees, seasonal allergies, the warming sun, time outside but, like ants at a picnic, came Death. Maurice Sendak died at 83 on May 8, and both Jean Craighead George at 92 and Carlos Fuentes at 83 passed away on May 15.
Maurice Sendak (10 June 1928 – 8 May 2012)
Where the Wild Things Are, published in 1963, was the children’s book of my childhood. Sent off to bed early for bad behavior, Max becomes the wolf in the dense forest that is his bedroom, enters the magical world of tall, furry monsters who will recognize him as their king before he wakes up to the smell of dinner from his mom. Over the years I have heard this book criticized for its scariness, for being for boys and for forgetting girls, and for being sentimental at the end where “there is no place like home.” Cough. The illustrations are beautiful and I loved it because there were no adults. A splendid nightmare, indeed.
I confess that I have not read his other books. The obit discusses them. I confess that I had not known that the Lindenberg kidnapping haunted him or that he saw himself as “lower class, Jewish, gay — [feeling] permanently shunted to the margins of things. “All I wanted was to be straight so my parents could be happy,” he had told The New York Times in a 2008 interview. “They never, never, never knew.”” And if he was indeed that haunted child and the outcast man, I’m certain that children on the magical island of wild things would light up their torches not because he was some kind of monster, but rather to honor him as their king.
Jean Craighead George (2 June 1919 – 15 May 2012)
Julie of the Wolves (1972) is the story of an Eskimo girl who becomes a wolf-whisperer. Jean Craighead George’s life was an adventure, from exotic travels, a veritable Noah’s Ark of animals in her home, and a litany of extraordinary accomplishments. She graduated from college at a time when few women did. She was also a White House Press Corps journalist. Her stories were provocative, dealing with social issues in ‘children’s literature.’ Julie of the Wolves has a rape scene. All her books deal with the environment and examine our role and behavior in it. My Side of the Mountain (1968) is often singled out by others as their favorite. I prefer Owl in the Shower, based on her pet screech owl Yammer. In this particular story an unemployed lumberjack discovers an owlet and questions his profession after the owlet adopts him. I reread How to Talk to Your Dog this weekend and the playful but yet informative quality of George’s prose comes through. You can tell in Dog that she researched animal behavior and training. How can you not like an author who likes animals?
Carlos Fuentes (11 November 1928 – 15 May 2012)
Carlos Fuentes, essayist and novelist, reminded the world where Mexico was on the atlas, that his country had legends and myths, drama and intrigue to entertain readers. More importantly, Fuentes, like his contemporaries, wanted to demonstrate that the Spanish language in the New World was capable of ‘world literature,’ as Spain did in the Old World. Argentina had Borges, Chile, Roberto Bolaño, and today Brazil has Paulo Coelho, Colombia has Gabriel García Marquez and the list goes on and on to include Mario Vargas Llosa, of Peru (now a citizen of Spain), recipient of the Novel Prize in Literature in 2010. Fuentes was not without his detractors. Mexican historian Enrique Krauze criticized Fuentes for exploiting Mexico. The public feud over politics between Fuentes and the late Octavio Paz did neither man any good.
I believe that Fuentes’s best-known work in the U.S. is his 1962 novel, The Death of Artemio Cruz (La muerte de Artemio Cruz). The novel is the Spanish-language version of Citizen Kane, in which a tyrannical publishing magnate awaits death, family hovering around him, and you, as the reader, join him in a cinematic stream-of-consciousness review of his life. Another strong contender for a Fuentes novel known to Americans is probably Old Gringo, which was made into a movie in 1989. His 1995 novel Diana o la cazadora solitaria (Diana, the Goddess Who Hunts Alone) disturbed me. It retells the affair that Fuentes had had with the beautiful but destructive actress Jean Seberg. She is best remembered as the waif Patricia in Godard’s Breathless (1960). Seberg with her androgynous look and Mia Farrow haircut before Mia had it in Peyton Place. While Diana careens through all the major “issues” of the Sixties, it is a wreck of story about lust and love, possession and obsession, and leaves you wondering why.
And so the month of May will move forward as each writers with their spell are remembered:
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.