By Kristin Hoerth
Last weekend I read an excerpt from An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination: A Memoir by Elizabeth McCracken, a new book due out in September. The excerpt was long, and I hadn’t really set out to read it all, but soon enough there I was sitting on my balcony in the fading evening light, three pages in and not wanting to pause even to go inside, where I wouldn’t have to squint at the pages. It wasn’t a particularly happy story, at least not certain parts of it: McCracken’s first child was stillborn. Most of the excerpt was about how she dealt with her grief over the loss. (Happily, her second child was born healthy a year later.) Generally speaking, I don’t care to read much about heartbreak and loss and grief. But these words were so beautifully written that I couldn’t not like them. Here’s an example: “After most deaths, I imagine, the awfulness lies in how everything’s changed: You no longer recognize the shape of your days. There’s a hole. It’s person-shaped and it follows you everywhere, to bed, to the dinner table, in the car. For us what was killing was how nothing had changed. We’d been waiting to be transformed, and now here we were, back in our old life.”
As I was telling a friend about this sad and wonderful story, I suddenly recognized its parallels in the world of visual art. Just as a tale told in words can be heartrending and beautiful all at once, a tale told in paint can be, too. I thought immediately of the work of Michael Shankman, a young artist featured in this issue. Lately Shankman has been painting works that reflect the anxiety of today’s economic and political climate, such as border fences, broken infrastructures, and other elements of what he calls “charged architecture.” They are gloomy to look at, as the artist himself admits; but they are such a successful blend of light, color, and composition that even I—as averse to negative influences as I am—want to hang one on my office wall. Such is the power of art, to evoke beauty in the unbeautiful.
One final note before I close: Perhaps you’ve already noticed the new signature below. I’m happy to tell you that I got married back in June, in an outdoor ceremony in the Colorado mountains. The wedding was wonderful, and so far married life is, too. Now I just have to practice signing this new name! -September 2008