Ron Charles on Anne Michaels’s “Held”

In haunting vignettes, ‘Held’ considers whether love can survive death

Anne Michaels’s novel may be one of the most romantic of all time

By Ron Charles

The Canadian poet Anne Michaels publishes novels so deliberately that each one entrances readers of a new decade. Her debut novel, “Fugitive Pieces,” which tells the story of a Polish Jew who escaped the Nazis, appeared in 1996 and won a host of awards including the Orange Prize for Fiction. Her second novel, “The Winter Vault,” about the construction of two civil engineering projects large enough to alter history, was published in 2009.

Michaels’s fans — an intense group that should be larger — will recognize the atmosphere of longing that pervades her gorgeous new novel, “Held.” It’s a story that explores the way intense intimacy manages to thrive in vernal pools of calm during eras of grief and tumult. Perhaps the word “romantic” has been too thoroughly attenuated to use in praise, but “Held” may be one of the most romantic books I’ve ever read.

It’s also one of the most poetic — not just in sentiment but in form. “Held” unfolds in short blocks. One is tempted to call them stanzas. Some are just a couple of lines; others extend for a few pages. Many of these sections demand bridging elisions, catching thematic echoes and restitching a chronology that’s been reordered across almost 120 years. Read the full review at the Washington Post.

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