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Archive for October 9th, 2018

 

by Sam Juliano

Life has come and life has gone.
Time has gone by
with no one to tend it, 
happiness in its past, 
for it will never feel love again.      -Anne Crawford

Driving through a remote, swampy backwoods in the deep south, two young men, brothers Tim and John Branner find themselves stranded after their car gets stuck in a furrow.  John ventures forth to find a pole to help pry them out and stumbles upon a pigeon infested  plantation house that appears uninhabited and in serious disrepair.  Upon entering the house the boys see dust and spider webs everywhere, pervasive evidence that people haven’t lived in the gloomy manor house for quite some time.  Unpacking sleeping bags, the two young men resolve to spend the night, and proceed to ignite the fireplace.  The cooing of the pigeons continues to wrangle John.   This is the basic mise en scene of a television adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s 1934 short story “Pigeons from Hell” which is rightly considered to be the greatest hour of the early 60’s anthology Boris Karloff’s Thriller, and the one that even those with hazy memories seemed to recall vividly.  The episode is drenched in atmosphere, and the seemingly long-abandon manor house in a remote wooden swamp zone develops a life of its own, albeit with a terrifying twist.

Julie Fogliano and Lane Smith, through aching elegiac prose and ravishing art with a spectral underpinning, transform a derelict house into a dimension of memory suffused with a blurred point of view, one paying homage to life forces that once made this benign structure the center of the world.  Bereft of the consternation generated by the usual perception of evil spirits who find refuge in forsaken dwellings, A House That Once Was largely disavows the malevolent possibilities inherent in a place no longer tempered by humanity in favor of piecing together evidence based photos and objects that fuel interrogative word pictures.  The author’s tone is deeply melancholic if tinged by hope and a celebration of a life once richly lived.  Through searingly descriptive verse, minimalist and haunting Fogliano gives her award winning master illustrator Smith the opportunity to apply fantastical and metaphysical heft to what would on first glance to be an ordinary find, quite the flip side of the story of the woodcutter’s children published by the Germans Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in 1812.   Few picture books in modern times have as seamlessly woven word and image from collaborating artists to establish such literary and pictorial chemistry, though it is clear enough all the way back to the first double page spread that Fogliano and Smith are simultaneously interpreting each other’s vision. (more…)

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