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Fall of Frost: A Novel Hardcover – March 27, 2008

3.3 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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From Publishers Weekly

This defiantly nonlinear fictionalization of the life of poet Robert Frost (1874–1963) alternates between Frost's late-life visit to Communist Russia, where he met with Khrushchev, and dozens of vignettes and scenes from the rest of his long life, as well as his work's posthumous reception. Hall (I Should Be Extremely Happy in Your Company) takes readers from Frost's troubled childhood in San Francisco to his creative flowering in Great Britain at the onset of WWI, to the fraught relationship between Frost-as-widower and his married secretary. The narrative returns again and again to the cold winters in New England farm country that permeated his poetry and his 20s and 30s, but the book's real weight comes from the tragedy of Frost's children's deaths: four of six preceded their father. The deep sorrow and disappointment embedded in Frost's story come through particularly in the included fragments of verse. None of what's here enlarges on the extraordinary amount of biographical material on Frost, but Hall gets deep into Frost's head, an approach that brings a startling immediacy to a complex figure many know only as the author of classics like The Road Not Taken. (Mar.)
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From Booklist

This is an ambitious and unusual project, a novel that limits itself to documented moments of Robert Frost’s life, including actual dialogue and excerpts from poems and letters. Unconcerned with linear progression and invested in all of Frost’s life, from childhood to old age, Hall slices the poet’s experiences into more than 100 small chapters of varying points of view. The cumulative effect is impressionistic, if dizzying, and some stories burn brighter. Frost’s friendship with an aspiring poet is rendered with surprising depth and tenderness, but Frost’s relationship with his five children proves too complex for the novel’s structure, which never lingers long on any individual. Frost’s unlikely meeting with Khrushchev receives the most attention, though it is Frost’s famously intimate understanding of nature that Hall conveys most lucidly: “You were looking west, and the sun was always going down, and each range was mistier, vaguer than the one in front of it. It looked as if the ranges, one by one, were going to sleep, turning to dream.” --Kevin Clouther

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult (March 27, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067001866X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670018666
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,489,491 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robert L. Frost on April 3, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I'm quite familiar with this work, having read it closely as a manuscript before copyright claims were used to censor a version with which the rights holders did not agree.

You might wonder, "how can one disagree with fiction?" Indeed, how. Fiction is neither true nor false, as it is a product of the writer's imagination. Only a traditionalist would confuse Hall's fascinating work with a biography, and Hall makes it very clear that he is not in any way pretending to present a biographical account of Frost. As a descendant of the poet, I have fond memories of the man, yet Hall's work neither affirms or undermines those memories. It does, however, incite reflection.

Biographers and historians--I was once among the latter--are restricted by their genre to examining almost exclusively the "exterior" or public lives of their subjects, as there is no way to "prove" what might have been going on in another person's head. Over the past generation or more, a newer genre that one might call "fictional biography" has emerged, and Hall's Fall of Frost is a fine exemplar. It examines the "interiority" of Frost, unapologetically working with the facts of Frost's life, Hall's own reading of Frost's poems, and Hall's own splendid imagination. By my reading it works quite well as an enjoyable and often amusing (yet at turns dead serious) riff on Frost-isms. We have Frost-isms today because Frost the poet-as-public-man has, thanks to myriad writings about him, eclipsed Frost the friend, great-grandfather, or rival. His work and life are now an integral part of our American cultural space and as a consequence, he can now become an altogether different type of literary figure--perhaps a post-human one.
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Format: Hardcover
How Ms. Thompson can write such a wrong-headed, blind and venomous review of a novel this artful, this carefully researched, this deeply sympathetic and nuanced about a great poet's long and complex life can only come, it seems, from her clutching sense of ownership of the poet and his work. For Hall is not dealing here with marble monuments, as Ms. Thompson would have it. Brian Hall has done nothing less than what all fine novelists do--he has delved deeply into the heart and soul of a character, and has given us a living, breathing man of immense gifts, large flaws, and profound grief. Generous, flinty, funny, thin-skinned, wise and sadly neglectful; a poor man, a rich man; a famous poet, an obscure and largely unpublished poet; and finally a man who suffered losses so horrific they would have served well for Greek tragedy. And at the center of this stunning novel is the poetry and Brian Hall's delicate and deeply intelligent readings of the poems. What we have in the end is not only a magnificent novel, but a deep and balanced portrait of a man. ---- And to attack the novel's gorgeous cover? Wow! That says it all, Ms. T.
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Format: Paperback
I can't recall reading a book that attracted such opposite reviews by literate people as this one has. Usually one sees the sophisticated, literate reviewers on one side, and those seeking simpler fare on the other, but not so for Hall's novel.

My own reading of the novel is very positive. Anyone who has read far enough in the reviews to reach mine, already knows that the book has 128 chapters that range back and forth in place and time. Written mostly in third person, there are a few passages in second person, addressed from Hall to Frost. These are unusual techniques but I believed they worked. At least they worked for me.

Hall's exposition of Frost's life follows many threads at once - his naive politics, his ineffectual farming, his awkward career of sinecures in academia, his frustrating family life, and through all of these threads, his poetry. Each thread is introduced in early chapters and developed in middle and later ones. We come to understand them not by seeing his life as a sequence of phases, but as a whole composed of antecedents and consequents, each one shedding light on the earlier as well as the later parts of his life.

Frost is presented as a garrulous, difficult man. He cares deeply about his family but doesn't know how to give anything of himself to them. Very serious about his work as a poet, he feels alternately pleased with himself and incredulous that anyone would be pleased with him. He is more than slightly out of joint with the reality around him. He needs to cast his experience into words, not so much in order to understand the world, which he never seems to do very well, but to understand his own feelings.

I don't know anything about Robert Frost. I'm not able to judge whether Hall's view of the man is accurate.
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Format: Hardcover
There is no shortage of factual information about the life of Robert Frost - selected letters, collected letters, family letters, memoirs and reminiscences by friends, and the many biographies published since his death 45 years ago (including the much discredited but official 3-volume biography by Lawrance Thompson).

Now, for the first time, a novel about Frost has been published in America. I say `novel' because the publisher (Viking) calls it that on the dust-jacket. But Fall of Frost, by Brian Hall, is a bizarre blending of fact and fiction.

Mr Hall is at pains to justify his approach in an `author's note'. His aim is `to trace what I consider important contours of Frost's extraordinarily lush and difficult mental landscape....' I am not sure what a mental landscape is - lush or otherwise. More straightforward is Hall's desire `to accommodate more speculation than nonfiction generally allows.'

If you like a novel that engages your emotions and your intellect, that draws you into the situations and characters depicted by the author, that takes you page-turningly along from beginning to end so you can see how a character develops through time -this is not the novel for you.

The book contains 128 untitled and usually very short `chapters' (most of them range from a few paragraphs to two or three pages). They are in seemingly random order. I can only suppose that the author's study was covered with piles of paper - 128 piles to be exact - and one day he scooped them up, in no particular order, numbered the piles and sent the manuscript to his publisher. Some piles contained his notes from biographies, others his quotes from letters, and still others his creative writing, i.e. imagined dialogues between Frost and his children, or Frost's internal monologues.
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