The Grass Labyrinth

Char­lotte Holmes

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews Adult Fiction - LEE POLEVOI

Bkmk Press Soft­cover $15.95 (170pp) 978-1-943491-04-9

Holmes’s gos­samer-gen­tle prose cap­tures the skeins of mem­ory tan­gled with real life.

What’s the break­ing point be­tween an artist’s ded­i­ca­tion to her craft and a com­mit­ment to lov­ing re­la­tion­ships? This prob­ing ques­tion is cen­tral to the del­i­cately wo­ven sto­ries in The Grass Labyrinth, by Char­lotte Holmes.

The nine sto­ries in­cluded here are linked by lo­ca­tions—a cot­tage on the Carolina coast, a loft in Brook­lyn, a Penn­syl­va­nia col­lege town; by themes—the dura­bil­ity of love, the never-end­ing pangs of re­gret; and by char­ac­ters, in­clud­ing Henry, a chil­dren’s book il­lus­tra­tor, his wife Lisa, an artist refugee named Agnes Landowska, and suc­ceed­ing gen­er­a­tions of re­lated in­di­vid­u­als.

Sto­ries like “What Is” and “Af­ter” are ele­giac in tone. The first is nar­rated by Kerry, Henry’s sec­ond wife, who looks back on her brief mar­riage, while the sec­ond is nar­rated by Agnes, whose brief af­fair with Henry changed the course of her life.

Holmes’s gos­samer-gen­tle prose cap­tures the skeins of mem­ory tan­gled with real life: “where the dark sky snags the ocean in its net of stars, leav­ing a line of phos­pho­res­cence in the sand,” for ex­am­ple, re­veals deep wells of emo­tion in the in­ner lives of these char­ac­ters. By con­trast, “Song With­out Words,” in which Henry’s wife Lisa grap­ples with the death of her un­born baby, of­fers a stun­ning and vis­ceral

im­me­di­acy to a por­trait of grief. Such dif­fer­ences demon­strate Holmes’s emo­tional range.

Later sto­ries ex­plore how choices char­ac­ters make, about pur­su­ing art and con­nect­ing with loved ones, af­fect their lives in unan­tic­i­pated ways. Span­ning some thirty years, The Grass Labyrinth vividly de­scribes both nat­u­ral set­tings and ur­ban en­vi­ron­ments, while never stray­ing far from each char­ac­ter’s emo­tional and artis­tic core. As Agnes notes, looking back on her life af­ter Henry’s death:

Some­times the work comes steadily, some­times it’s famine or feast, but even when the field is dry, and there’s no prom­ise of rain, you still have to be out there, star­ing up at the sky, ready when the first drop falls.

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