Brian Selznick's Lockdown Masterpiece - The New York Times

KALEIDOSCOPE By Brian Selznick Two boys, lying on their backs inside a large wooden sphinx, reflect on the puzzles of life. Brian Selz...


KALEIDOSCOPE
By Brian Selznick

Two boys, lying on their backs inside a large wooden sphinx, reflect on the puzzles of life.

Brian Selznick’s brilliant new book Kaleidoscope is a collection of magical, weird and mysterious stories.

A widower isolates himself to write an encyclopedia of all human knowledge – and dies decades later, still in the middle of the first entry: apple. The entrance is so long that its pages fill an entire house.

The stories seem to be related to each other. There is always a first person narrator; there is usually a boy named James; the narrator loves James. But they don’t fit into one story, or even one world. Sometimes James is dead; sometimes he becomes king of the moon, “making sure the universe is safe for dreaming”.

To calm himself in the face of the immense pain of the world, a man steals and collects beautiful objects, but in a fit of rage and despair he crushes them all. Then he uses the glittering shards to make glowing scenes of disaster.

Each tale is accompanied by art which, as we would expect from Selznick, is breathtaking. We get two pieces per story – first a kaleidoscopic image of shapes broken into crystalline shapes; then, on the next page, the scene that was refracted: a ship, a dragon, a clock, vines, a castle.

Mysterious narrator takes boy to library where books tell about everything that happened and everything that happened will to arrive. The boy wants to know where his the story is. But the narrator, although having written each book himself, by hand, does not know, does notI don’t even remember what he wrote. The boy is furious: Whats the point of knowing everything if you forget it and canCan’t even guess where the answers are? Later we find the boy desperately trying to organize the books. It was an impossible task, “recalls the omniscient amnesic narrator,” but the gesture touched me in one way or another. ”

Indeed, in the middle of “Kaleidoscope”, I became frustrated, like the boy. I wanted more – a hidden narrative to uncover, a key that would unlock the secrets of the book. Some young readers will certainly feel this and lose interest. But readers of all ages who love literature will find questions that demand engagement, images that refuse to fade from mind. While each tale seems like a fragment of a bigger story we’ll never learn, we feel like we’re hearing the best part. This may be sufficient.

Inexplicable kaleidoscopic lights shine in a forest near a small town. What are the lights? “Sometimes I think they’re angels,” a boy said. “And sometimes I think they’re Martians … but … mostly, I just think they’re beautiful.”

Selznick tells us, in an author’s note, that he wrote “Kaleidoscope” while locked out, separated for three months from her husband, and indeed the book looks like Covid art. Not because it is a virus (fortunately) but because it is imbued with nostalgia, an isolation that can almost to be raped, with amazement, with rage and with wonder at the exquisite delicacy of life.

In a garden, or The Garden, a dragon offers the narrator the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. The narrator reflects, then refuses: “If I knew all, there would be no mysteries… no wonder. … There would just be… answers.

There are no answers in this beautiful book. There are only two of us – Selznick and the reader – lying side by side in the belly of a sphinx. Don’t try to answer a riddle. Just enjoy being in the middle of one.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Brian Selznick's Lockdown Masterpiece - The New York Times
Brian Selznick's Lockdown Masterpiece - The New York Times
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