From Publishers Weekly
In these measured and moving laments for bygone forms of New England life, historical essayist Mansfield (Skylark; Cosmopolis
) traces the loss of local landmarks and customs in an age of increased urbanization. He opens with an account of the ceremonial rite that originated as a marketing ploy of the Boston Post,
which offered towns a cane made of African ebony with a gold-plated head for the town's oldest male citizen. He next takes a wry look at the mythology surrounding the "Washington Elm" that once stood in Cambridge, Mass., and goes on to explore, with a local expert, the beautiful stonework of New Hampshire's granite bridges. In perhaps his strongest and most anthropological essay, Mansfield delves into the rules that cemeteries insist on in order to constrain the excesses of mourners' grief, while taking time to reflect on the contemporary ritual of roadside shrines (the flowers and messages of mourning that mark the sites of fatal accidents). The most personal and sentimental essay in the collection celebrates the life of a late friend, a hunter-trapper turned naturalist named John Kulish, whose death represents for Mansfield the passing of a world of intimate knowledge of wildlife. Carefully researched and exuding unassuming integrity, this collection will have special appeal for New Englanders who share the author's mournful approach to modernity.
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In The Same Ax, Twice
(2000), Mansfield queried the multiple meanings of the popular practice of restoring historical objects, an impetus of concern with the past that carries into this volume. Instead of considering restoration, however, Mansfield plays his thoughts off objects of place as disparate as presentation walking canes; regulations on impromptu cemetery memorials; the geology beneath Keene, New Hampshire; the commercial strip outside Nashua, New Hampshire; and the auction of his neighbor's house. The Granite State is the setting for all but a few of Mansfield's ruminations, and there is where the author finds his dominant theme of the yearning to center the world, to create an axis mundi. His antithetical theme within the essays is time's encroachment on the human desire to fix the past in place. Mansfield so observantly develops the antagonism in quite different contexts that expectations ride high from essay to essay; connoisseurs of seeing the world in an oyster, or even a small state, will savor Mansfield's style. Gilbert TaylorCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved