Item description for Every Past Thing by Fred Ramey Pamela Thompson...
In 1899, the streets of New York were as unsettled as the heart and mind of Mary Jane Elmer. the ideas of the transcendentalist were still in the air, and thoughts of a second revolution were rising. Emma Goldman spoke to ever-growing numbers of the disenfranchised in Union Square and scandalized the city fathers. Police used horses, clubs, and bullets to disperse the crowds. Women were redefining their roles for the coming century. And, near the middle of life, solitary in her marriage to an intractable and distant artist, and still grieving the death of their daughter ten years earlier, Mary struggles to shape a future she can endure. Derived from the lives of real people, this beautiful novel ia a whirlwind of history, art, familial tremors, and personal desire. But beyond its elegance, beyond its historical authenticity, Every Past Thing is an intimate and moving family portrait-and its every brushstroke is marked with longing.
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Est. Packaging Dimensions: Length: 9.1" Width: 5.8" Height: 1.2" Weight: 1.2 lbs.
Release Date Sep 29, 2007
Publisher Unbridled Books
ISBN 1932961399 ISBN13 9781932961393
Availability 1 units. Availability accurate as of Oct 25, 2016 03:07.
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Reviews - What do customers think about Every Past Thing?
Intriguing Premise, Disappointing Results Nov 9, 2007
This book was provided to me through Library Thing and I was excited to wade into my first assignment as an "early reviewer." I was attracted by the dust jacket description, but unfortunately an intriguing premise, ample interior dialogue and a favorite setting do not necessary make a readily accessible novel. Pamela Thompson's, "Every Past Thing", is a fictional account of the real individuals involved with a painting the author discovered in the Smith College Art Museum. I readily identified with Edwin Elmer and his wife, Mary, who have moved to New York City in 1899, ten years after the death of their daughter, the main subject of the painting. Mary believes that life has passed her by and spends her days wandering Manhattan, while Edwin is attending an art academy, attempting to launch his art career. Mary is ostensibly searching for a man with whom she had a romantic encounter early in her marriage. Instead she is befriended by two young anarchists who draw her out of her preoccupations and expose her to a new way of looking at the world. (Emma Goldman is a minor character.) Edwin and Mary are living lives that barely intersect and aren't even certain what they are looking for. The novel spans six days, and a large part of Thompson's novel is taken up by Mary's inner dialogue as she reacts to each event. It did not strike me as effective approach in this case and I often had difficulty connecting the pieces as they randomly appeared in Mary's mind. Admittedly, Thompson's language is sometimes disarmingly beautiful: "The night was not soft, was not velvet, but spoke to him of something hard and cold, the carbonized remains of an ancient fire." I believe Pamela Thompson has a genuine literary talent and I will be watching for subsequent novels. But the intriguing premise and other allures did not add up to a satisfying reading experience this time.
Really Good ! Oct 29, 2007
The jacket blurb on this book, compares Thompson with the likes of Emily Barton and Marilynne Robinson. I would have to say I may have added Joyce Carol Oates to the mix. Thompson's novel is based on real life characters. The painter Edwin Romanzo Elmer, his wife Mary and his brother Samuel are the three main characters of this book. The story takes place over one week of their lives in the year of 1899. Ten years after the death of their only child Edwin and Mary journey to New York. Edwin to take painting classes while Mary is left to wander the streets of the city. Like Oates, Thompson is very good at "getting into" the heads of her characters. Again much like Oates' novels, this is a book to be read and savored. The story is not a fast read, it is a very emotional book. I admire an author who attempts to bring to life individuals who have lived in the past. Thompson creates a living and breathing couple. They are both troubled and have grown distant from each other, due mainly because of the death of their daughter. Yet, as one reads the story of this couple and their marriage, it is revealed that much more lies behind their distance than a single death. Good book !!
Consolation Oct 25, 2007
Ten years after the death of their daughter Effie, the painter Edwin Romanzo Elmer and his wife Mary Jane Elmer are in New York where Edwin unenthusiastically attends The National Academy of Design. While he is gone Mary supplements their income by working at the whip-snap machine and spends the rest of her time writing in her diary. Thompson invokes the past elegantly, making hauntingly real the loss of Effie. But Effie isn't Mary's only loss. Jimmy Roberts, a younger man who had once boarded at her and Edwin's bed-and-breakfast and with whom Mary corresponded for years after he left for New York to study medicine, is the subject of many diary entries. In New York Mary hopes to bump into Jimmy Roberts at Schwab's, a saloon he had mentioned once in his letters, and the place of choice for the political anarchists of the times, including Emma Goldman.
In the painting, "Mourning Picture," which inspired the novel, Effie is seen in the foreground surrounded by her cat and her beloved sheep, her doll, a hat laying in the grass; Behind her the expanse of sky and green hills. Edwin and Mary sit in their mourning clothes framed by young trees. The house that Edwin built towers behind them and seems to cut the picture in two and separate them from Effie. Their features, including Effie's, are heavy with sadness. With great beauty and grace Thompson has captured the fractured lives of these characters and their loneliness as they continue after all these years to mourn their daugther and seek consolation, finding it only intermittently in the small surprises the present offers them. There is a sense in the painting of Edwin and Mary sitting chained to their chairs, frozen in their longing gaze in the general direction of Effie, whom they probably no longer see clearly. Even our most intimate memories crumble with the distance while the present tosses us together indiscriminately to glimpse what we can of each other.
Thompson clearly cares deeply about her characters and it is contagious. Rarely have I been this moved by a novel. The beautiful writing, the richness of the historical context, and the depth and compassion of the storytelling makes this a highly recommended read.
interesting biographical fiction Sep 3, 2007
In November 1899 artist Edwin Romanzo Elmer and his wife Mary Jane return to New York City ostensibly to start over, but in many ways to try to finally move past the death of their daughter Effie, who died almost a decade earlier. Whereas Edwin wants reconciliation with his affluent brother Samuel so that he can re-enter the upper crust and subsequently obtain a position with the National Academy of Design; Mary Jane secretly searches for her former lover Jimmy Roberts at an infamous Manhattan anarchist dive. He seeks to escape with his art into the future while she seeks to escape in her more exciting past. However, Edwin is distracted from his goal by his wife's frequent disappearances as he suspects she has a lover.
This is an interesting biographical fiction of the famous still life painter and his wife that rotates perspective so the audience comprehends her disenchantment and his fears. The story line takes place over five days in 1899, but clever use of flashbacks to Effie's death in 1890, the renowned Mourning Picture paying tribute to her death, and Mary Jane looking back to her time with the anachists add time and depth to the tale. Although ironically the Mary Jane segue, esecially early, can turn too artisty slowing the read, fans of late nineteenth centuy Amerciana bio-fiction will appreciate the spotlight on the painter and his sposue.
Every Past Thing Aug 29, 2007
Following the loss of her 10-year-old daughter, Mary Jane Elmer finds herself with "a pen and a book, whose pages are mostly empty." She wonders what she will write, considering as theme "January 1890, The book of no Effie." Instead she titles her new journal page "Every Past Thing Becomes Strange." In the pages that follow, Mary Jane explores the strangeness of past things, seeking to clarify not only her changed personal relationships but also her own identity: she is simultaneously "Mary" within her lost past, and "Jane" in her uncertain future. Relocating to New York City, (Mary) Jane becomes involved with the tumultuous intellectual climate of the late 19th century, living a secret life among anarchists and feminists. Reimagining her past with a secret lost love, she is able to recreate what might have been and find a world where she can breathe again. Most unforgettable about Every Past Thing are the gentle, poetic turns of phrase (Mary is described as "tiny, clad in a dark wrap. A pinch to her shoulder blades, as if they were folded wings, delicate, poised for flight. Fragile. . . "). Unlike her despondent husband Edwin, she "likes all the city's shades of gray. . . . She even likes the dirtiness of the rain. And the ballast of strangers: People are alive, all around." Through Pamela Thompson's nuanced, poetic language we watch this brave, extraordinary woman coming back to life in a world redefining itself. There is a moving grace and poignancy in Thompson's first few pages, an earlier journal entry in which Mary relives her daughter's dying moments. She describes the beloved's face: "What Economy created her--only two shades, cream and brown: her skin utterly pale, with no bloom or agitation or bite; her brown eyes the same golden as their lashes, the same as her two brows kicking up as if to touch the center." She reconsiders the morning of Effie's death: "that morning, in the presence of the terrible orange light, no voices came. All sounds below muffled. Imagined--at most. Yet they had been, once, all of my existence. I understood then how small my own part in this Life." What remains with me most after finishing this remarkable book is how we carry on. That what we lose can be relived and reshaped to carry its own seeds of joy. Thompson's head note from Emerson asks us, "Why should we grope about in the dry bones of the past?. . . The sun shines today also." Surely this novel provides a lesson we all need to learn. Highly recommended.