Guy de Maupassant, translated from the French by Douglas Parmee
NYRB Classics: 126 pp., $14 paper
"AFLOAT" WAS originally published as "Sur l'eau," Guy de Maupassant's log of his travels along the French Riviera on his yacht in 1887. He was eager to get out of Paris for a couple of weeks, and there is a sense of being sprung in this travelogue. He is disgusted by smugness, war, governments, human ugliness, crowds and his own shortcomings. He suffers from migraines, syphilis and deteriorating eyesight. The seafaring life refreshes him: "The sail gives a little shudder and then the boom swings over to starboard. I feel a breath of wind brushing my cheek and the water around begins to quiver." Six years after this idyllic cruise, Maupassant died in an insane asylum.
Night Wraps the Sky
Writings By and About Mayakovsky
Edited by Michael Almereyda
Farrar, Straus & Giroux: 300 pp., $27
VLADIMIR MAYAKOVSKY, "unofficial poet laureate of the Russian Revolution," shot himself in 1930, age 36. His early poems were vivid, fierce, futuristic. "Port," a poem he wrote at 19, sounds like early Sylvia Plath: "Bedsheets of water under the belly / torn to waves by a white tooth." In 1923, already world-weary: "Conference panelists of the world / freeze in mid-gesture." In 1926: "[T]o write about the tenderness of love, take Bus No. 7 from Lubyansky Square to Nogin Square. The appalling jolting will serve to throw into relief for you . . . the charm of a life transformed. A shake-up is essential, for the purposes of transformation."
A Mother's Story of a Son at War
Viking: 96 pp., $21.95
FRANCES RICHEY raised her son, Ben, alone. After Ben graduated from West Point, he became a Green Beret and was sent to Iraq, to fight in a war his mother did not support. This is her memoir in verse. "Last Mother's Day," she writes in the poem, "Letters," "he was incommunicado, / nothing came. / Three days later, a message / in my box; a package, / the mail room closed. / I went out into the lobby, / banged my fist against / the desk. When they / gave it to me, I clutched it / to my chest, sobbing / like an animal."
The Year of the Boat
Beauty, Imperfection, and the Art of Doing It Yourself
Lawrence W. Cheek
Sasquatch Books: 280 pp., $23.95
WHEN LAWRENCE CHEEK sets out to build his own wooden sailboat, a 13 1/2 -foot sailing dinghy, he has no idea how deep the project will take him. Wooden boats embody a classic ideal of simplicity and excellence, and Cheek finds himself (in spite of himself) drawn toward these values. There is the challenge of making something oneself (including forgoing pride to ask for help), then there is the struggle with perfectionism and its tendency to leach pleasure from the enterprise. Cheek's writing style is apt: somewhere between pure practical advice from lessons learned the hard way and gentle philosophizing.