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The Poet of Tolstoy Park: A Novel by Sonny…

The Poet of Tolstoy Park: A Novel

by Sonny Brewer

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An older "Thoreau" faces mortality. Sonny Brewer's book is a puzzle to me. It's a book which moves slowly and inexorably, yet most pleasurably towards its inevitable end. I was initially put off by all the minute detail, which seemed unnecessary, given the everyday nature of what was being described. Here's an example:

"Henry was washing his breakfast bowl in a white porcelain-coated metal bucket ... Henry lifted the bowl from the water in the bucket and slung droplets from it onto the ground. He reached a small white cotton towel down from where it hung on a holly branch near the well, dried the bowl, and returned the towel. He took the clean spoon from his pants pocket and placed it inside the bowl and was taking steps toward the barn to put the dish away ..."

There's a lot of this kind of picture-making detail in the book, but you kind of get used to it after a bit and fall willingly into the slow cadences and rhythms of a timeless tale about life, death, relationships. Henry Stuart knows he's dying. He just doesn't know when. And of course no one does, and therein lies the unifying theme, I think. It's not about how long we live or when we die, it's about how we spend our time while we're still here. At first Henry thinks he needs to be alone - and perhaps he does - but then he realizes that other people are important too, and ends up becoming an important and integral part of the Fairhope and Montrose community. I thought of Thoreau and Walden while reading this book, of course, but I also thought of the southern novelist, Reynolds Price, whose dignified and stately style Brewer's gentle story brings to mind. So yeah, I enjoyed the story. On a more irreverent note, I was kinda wishing, waaay in the back of my mind, that maybe ol' Henry and Kate (some thirty years younger)would get together a la "Murphy's Romance." (Remember James Garner and Sally Field?) But I suppose that woulda spoiled the dignified and artistic tone of the book. But who knows? Maybe Hollywood will add that twist by the time it gets to the screen. Great story, Sonny. You have a voice that deserves to find an audience. ( )
  TimBazzett | May 23, 2009 |
I loved this book. It makes me want to visit Fairhope, Alabama. ( )
  carmen29 | May 1, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0345476328, Paperback)

“The more you transform your life from the material to the spiritual domain, the less you become afraid of death.” Leo Tolstoy spoke these words, and they became Henry Stuart’s raison d’etre. The Poet of Tolstoy Park is the unforgettable novel based on the true story of Henry Stuart’s life, which was reclaimed from his doctor’s belief that he would not live another year.

Henry responds to the news by slogging home barefoot in the rain. It’s 1925. The place: Canyon County, Idaho. Henry is sixty-seven, a retired professor and a widower who has been told a warmer climate would make the end more tolerable. San Diego would be a good choice.

Instead, Henry chose Fairhope, Alabama, a town with utopian ideals and a haven for strong-minded individualists. Upton Sinclair, Sherwood Anderson, and Clarence Darrow were among its inhabitants. Henry bought his own ten acres of piney woods outside Fairhope. Before dying, underscored by the writings of his beloved Tolstoy, Henry could begin to “perfect the soul awarded him” and rest in the faith that he, and all people, would succeed, “even if it took eons.” Human existence, Henry believed, continues in a perfect circle unmarred by flaws of personality, irrespective of blood and possessions and rank, and separate from organized religion. In Alabama, until his final breath, he would chase these high ideas.

But first, Henry had to answer up for leaving Idaho. Henry’s dearest friend and intellectual sparring partner, Pastor Will Webb, and Henry’s two adult sons, Thomas and Harvey, were baffled and angry that he would abandon them and move to the Deep South, living in a barn there while he built a round house of handmade concrete blocks. His new neighbors were perplexed by his eccentric behavior as well. On the coldest day of winter he was barefoot, a philosopher and poet with ideas and words to share with anyone who would listen. And, mysteriously, his “last few months” became years. He had gone looking for a place to learn lessons in dying, and, studiously advanced to claim a vigorous new life.

The Poet of Tolstoy Park is a moving and irresistible story, a guidebook of the mind and spirit that lays hold of the heart. Henry Stuart points the way through life’s puzzles for all of us, becoming in this timeless tale a character of such dimension that he seems more alive now than ever.

From the Hardcover edition.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:46 -0400)

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In 1925, Henry Stuart leaves his home and grown sons in Idaho to move to the woods on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay, Alabama, where he builds a round house and lives for more than two decades on the property he names after Leo Tolstoy.

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