Wednesday, June 12, 2019


Landscape with Fragmented Figures, Jeff Vande Zande (Bottom Dog Press, 2008)

It is hard to imagine this book taking place in a locale other than Michigan. If soldiers returning from war can be said to suffering post-traumatic stress disorders, many people in Michigan suffer similarly. Too many years of economic downturn takes a toll. An urban scholar doing a study of cities that have badly floundered, failed to find anyone with much optimism about the future of Detroit. (But now this has changed). This book captures that pessimism and angst.

Ray Casper is an artist, teaching at a small college in Bay City, Michigan. He's done some good work, is known as an inspirational teacher, has a nice relationship with his girlfriend, Diane. Suddenly, things begin to go awry. Diane, also an artist, leaves him. He loses his will to paint and desire to teach. He is unable to find solace with colleagues or friends. He is adrift even before his father dies, leaving many unresolved issues. His brother, a ne-er do well, Ray has never come to terms with, comes to live with him. Things continue their downward spiral as Ray comes to resemble his brother, Sammy, more and more.

This was a difficult book to read and yet I never put it down. Michigan is no longer hospitable to a diverse group of people: the blue-collar, Sammy; the artist, Ray; the student, Billy, who finds little support for finding a way to make a living or getting an education. The writing is fluid, the story poignant, but the book's most important strength is its clear-sighted and unabashed presentation of truth. That truth also examines the nature of art and the artist.

There are no heroes in this book. Just real people trying to find some joy in life, trying to find a reason to go on.


Margot Kinberg said...

This sounds like a powerful book, Patti, just because it's about real people. And I think the topic is really important. We don't yet understand the full impact of the stress of these times, but it' real, and needs to be addressed.

Rick Robinson said...

As good as it sounds, I'm afraid it sounds a little too depressing for me, thanks.

Jeff Meyerson said...

More than a little, Rick. I'm with you.

George said...

I haven't read any of Jeff Vande Zande's works, but I'll see if I can track down a copy of LANDSCAPE WITH FRAGMENTED FIGURES.

Todd Mason said...

It does look tempting.

Not to pile on the downbeat, but do you have any interest in seeing the author and curator/historian interviews C-SPAN conducted as part of the Detroit episode of their CITIES TOUR series?

Todd Mason said...

(Oddly enough, not all are downbeat!)

lienntk said...

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