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Finding Solace

Tue, 12/12/2023 - 11:54

“The House in the Country”

This is more a work of art than a children's book. 

In "The House in the Country" (A24, $32), Claire A. Nivola's illustrations are at times so detailed they resemble pointillism. A great willow tree, for example, around which she runs as a little girl glorying in a green space far from her family's apartment in the city, is rendered in a spreading explosion of tiny leaves.

The willow is the center about which circles life at her Bohemian family compound in the summertime. The place is Springs, the property is the refuge of her parents, Ruth Nivola and the sculptor Costantino Nivola, who fled wartime Italy, and the house holds such charms as a wood stove, wide-plank floorboards, and not one but three porches: one a kind of pantry with glassware, one a library where young Claire gets lost in stories, and one facing south, a sunroom where she naps with her ever-present dog. 

The book is a memoir, really, redolent with nostalgia for a lost time of box turtle searches, murals painted on garden walls, dinghy trips out on the bay, and parties where artists, writers, photographers, and collectors gathered and the wine flowed. "If the honey-scented wisteria was in bloom or the wind happened to carry a salty whiff of the sea, the guests — not quite knowing why — would be visibly transported, as if to a country far across the ocean."  

And this is where we'll take our leave, because what's Edenic cannot last.

“The Enchanted Symphony”

It's a hell of an allegory. In "The Enchanted Symphony" (Abrams, $19.99), in an idyllic hillside village of the Old World, a purple fog descends, depressing every last citizen, even the houseplants. Life stills. The skies darken and the birds grow silent. Everyone stays indoors. 

Depending on how you're bent, this could be seen as a critique of the digital world we've made, or rather that has been foisted upon us and we've all acceded to, with the associated surge in social and mental ills. Then, too, not long ago there was a little thing called Covid.  

The fog is dispelled through the arts, namely music, specifically by a single boy, Piccolino, at the piano from the echoing depths of a grand old opera house.

"For a moment," we're told of his father as he sweeps up nearby, "his spirits lifted, and he realized how much he had missed music." 

The plants, brought in to fill the hall and be serenaded, perk up and stand tall at the melodies. Soon, so do the villagers. When the orchestra again gathers to play, it's all kaleidoscopically rendered by Elly MacKay, a Canadian illustrator. Life and light return. 

About that interpretation: Why not more than one? 

In a postscript, the authors, Emma Walton Hamilton of Sag Harbor and her mother, Julie Andrews of North Haven, note the Covid era's blow to the arts, from theaters to concert halls, but then add, "While our purple fog may evoke the pandemic, to us, it symbolizes something larger: the creeping distractions that can prevent us from appreciating all that matters most." 

Truer words. 
“Who I Am”

Here's one for the bad days. 

"Who I Am" (Abrams, $15.99) by Susan Verde of East Hampton addresses the affliction of our time: excessive interiority.

The nagging voice is naturally one of negativity. "My mind might tell me, I can't," one kid laments, gazing up at a multicolored bird in flight. Yet there's no reason positive affirmations can't follow — "I can tell myself: Yes, I can!" 

A compatriot in a beanie adorned with peace signs puts a finer point on it. "When the unkind voice gets loud and I feel down, I can tell myself: I am enough. In this world, I matter." And the unhelpful thoughts are beaten back.

Getting out of your own head, Ms. Verde points out, can be achieved by simply unloading. "Everyone has worries, and they are okay to talk about," a boy realizes. Just one like-minded soul is all it takes. 

One young girl in brown pigtails and blue T-shirt, charmingly rendered in Peter H. Reynolds's gouache and watercolors, strikes a meditative pose as she tells herself, "I can silence the voice that is not the truth, anytime, anywhere. . . ."

Are you listening, adults?

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