Picks and Pans Review: Last Stands

updated 01/31/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/31/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Hilary Masters

His father was poet Edgar Lee Masters, famous after the spectacular success of Spoon River Anthology. His mother, Edgar's much younger second wife, had parents in Kansas City. Hilary Masters, 54, the author of three other books and a professional photographer, spent his childhood shuttling between the two couples. The Kansas City grandfather was a bluff, Irish-immigrant ex-cavalry soldier in the Old West, as vivid an old man as any boy could want. Hilary's father, transplanted from the Midwest to the East, where he worked feverishly to be more than a one-book phenomenon, was a sweet, preoccupied old man. These "notes from memory," as this beautiful memoir is called, are distinguished by candor, sentiment, toughness, clarity, sadness and a graceful prose that shifts time, place and mood almost within a single sentence. The funeral for his father, a gathering of the poet's two families and relatives in a setting made memorable by Spoon River, is an astonishing recollection. Recordings the poet had selected were played, and then a man who looked like Lincoln read the poem Silence, which ends: "If we who are in life cannot speak/ Of profound experiences,/ Why do you marvel that the dead/ Do not tell you of death?/ Their silence shall be interpreted/ As we approach them." (Godine, $14.95)

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