Following the widely celebrated Collected Poems , this second volume in the series of James Merrill’s works brings us Merrill as novelist and playwright. Just as in his poems we come upon prose pieces, dramatic dialogue, and even a short play in verse, in his novels and plays we find the rhythms of his poetry reflected and given new form.
Merrill’s first novel, The Seraglio , is a daring roman à clef derived in large part from his early life as the cosmopolitan son of Charles Merrill, one of America’s most famous twentieth-century financiers. Written in a highly refined prose that owes something to Henry James, the book is a compelling portrait of the luxury and treachery swirling around the Southampton beach house of an irrepressible family patriarch, with his many mistresses and ex-mistresses in attendance, told from the point of view of his lively but troubled son. At the other end of the narrative spectrum we find The (Diblos) Notebook , an experimental novel in which a young American’s adventures on a Greek island are deconstructed and assembled into a tentative fiction before our eyes. Merrill’s plays, including the one-act comedy of manners The Bait and the Chekhovian The Immortal Husband —a reinvention of the myth of Tithonus, who was granted eternal life but not eternal youth—are also fresh turns on his characteristic themes: home and travel, reality and artifice, simplicity and complication. And, for the first time in print, here is Merrill’s short play The Birthday , a fledgling effort written in 1947 and a fascinating window onto the concern with spiritual communication and the otherwordly that would later blossom into his great epic, The Changing Light at Sandover .
From the Hardcover edition.
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|Title of eBook: Collected Novels and Plays|
|Release Date: 03-09-2011|
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|Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
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Collected Novels and Plays
from The Seraglio
1. Exactly a year later Francis learned the truth about the slashed portrait-by then, of course, restored with expert care. The gash running from the outer corner of his sister's eye to her Adam's apple had been patched, sewn, smoothed, painted over, until he really had to hunt for the scar. Enid was posed against a cultivated landscape. Her face, formal above velvet, discouraged even Francis from filling in the details of the crime. No doubt he could have. The intervening year had left him with a key to such matters. Besides, he knew the scene by heart. It was not, despite lawns, flowerbeds, terraces, the scene in the painting. Over the dunes a whitish haze trembled, thinning upwards, to the thunder of waves. Windows facing the sea were usually frosted by the salt air. All this could give you a feeling of loneliness, of being the one real person in a ghostly world. He guessed how the scene must have worked upon the little murderess; its effect upon his own first ten summers, if it came to that-but here again the portrait stopped him. As with Enid herself, where appearances so handsomely denied offense, it no longer seemed fair to probe.
The facts, however, were these:
Enid's children had moved out to Long Island with their nurse. From her window, Lily, the oldest, caught a familiar sparkling. The entire summer awaited her, tomorrow was her tenth birthday, and she had been misbehaving all morning. Nobody knew what had come over her. Worse yet, her mother and Alice and the cook reacted as if the little girl-Lily kept telling herself, "I'm still only a little girl"-was disobedient out of choice, as if she had enjoyed tort