In his first fiction in nearly 30 years, Cabot (The Joshua Tree, 1970) offers an exemplary trio of novellas, each occupied with the theme of reconciliation to oneself and ones losses, presented in often stunning prose. Each tale is told from multiple perspectivesgenerally, those of several male members of a single familyspanning decades and, in the first novella, Breath of the Earth, centuries. Breath chronicles a Mediterranean villages fortunes, conflicts, and sufferings. Cabots rendering of places, though they are often too stylized to reveal their real-world basis, is marvelous: The olive trees, parched dirt, and wine, however underspecified (is that Mediterranean land really Italy?), become hypnotically real as a history of fierce pirates, wayward sons, and, the most powerful of all malefactors, modernization, unfolds. Cabots scale and tone are intimate and sometimes impressionistic, but the pleasure of the volume is less in what happensoften events that are hard to place or even identifythan in the way the tales are told. Cabots mode throughout is elegiac: His narrators are woeful though not bitter. In A Rat in the Boardroom, a son learns and finally leads the business his father established. By selecting discontinuous scenes from different stages of each mans life, Cabot persuasively depicts the sons inability to comprehend his fathers view of the worldand the ways each mans values corrode the others idea of what makes life worthwhileas intractable. The final tale, Touch of Dust, completes the progression from village through family with its story of the solitary artist who attempts to wrestle his past into meaning and who emerges with an inspiring conviction about the love he has known. For all its extraordinary lack of specificity, Cabots incantatory prose memorably captures the dramatic tragedy of living, and the precious, endangered whimper of redemption.
Intensely dramatic, lyrically expressive and suffused with passionate feeling, the three novellas collected here demonstrate Cabot's concern that humanity has lost touch with the natural world. In the three decades since he published the highly praised novel, The Joshua Tree, Cabot has not lost his ability to harness theme to emotion, but new readers may find his insistent voice too highly charged. Told from multiple points of view, each novella looks back on lifetimes of stress and struggle. We meet the narrator of "Breath of the Earth" when he is a 13-year-old boy living in a desperately poor village on an Italian island whose soil, which once supported fig and olive trees and grape vines, is becoming as barren as modern life. Despite his laborious existence, as he matures, he finds that a harmony with nature sweetens the pain of survival. But developers and tourists, and his own son, are poised to destroy simple rural life. The image of the rodent under a conference table that concludes "A Rat in the Boardroom" is appropriate to Cabot's scathing tone as he flashes back through the life of a dying man whose ruthless business practices have also impoverished his son's soul. "Touch of Dust" returns to Italy, where the narrator, a reclusive artist, mourns the degradation of the natural world, "a dreadful corruption... where each hope withered," but finally achieves redemptive insight in recollecting the people he has loved. Cabot's prose shimmers with poetic imagery as he recalls halcyon summer days and rugged landscapes, but one needs a certain tolerance for florid writing to fully enjoy these novellas.