The Escher Twist and God in Concord by Jane Langton, with a Longfellow digression

August 18, 2007 at 5:59 pm (Mystery fiction, Poetry)

escher.jpg The Escher Twist, a mercurial little mystery by Jane Langton, is steeped in the lore and history of the Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I read the book when it came out in 2002 and have had a particular affection for it ever since, for a reaon to be explained forthwith.

god-in-concord.jpg I have been an admirer of Langton’s Homer and Mary Kelly series ever since I had the great good fortune to be reading the marvelous – and marvelously witty – God in Concord while I was actually in Concord, paying homage to idols such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, and Louisa May Alcott – to name just a few! These books have often featured a soupcon of the supernatural, never laid on too thick but rather just barely hinted at.

Anyway – back to The Escher Twist. In the novel, an elderly lady named Eloise Winthrop spends much of her time in this famed place of burial, visiting her husband’s grave. An inscription on a nearby monument strikes her forcibly:

‘There is no death! / What seems so is transition / This life of mortal breath / Is but a suburb of the life Elysian, / Whose portal we call death.’

Eloise, considering the sentiment implicit in this verse, thinks to herself, “Oh, yes, it was so true! One crossed the bridge and entered the solemn portal, coming out on the other side into the life Elysian, which was a ‘suburb’ – so quaint – of heaven.”

This will be Eloise Winthrop’s last visit, in her present guise, to the Mount Auburn Cemetery. What happens next is – well, I can’t describe it, except to say that it is a small masterpiece of fictional conjuring. and a great example of why so many of us treasure the art – indeed, the alchemy! – of the novelist.

The stanza quoted is from the poem “Resignation” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. longfellow.jpg


  1. BooksPlease said,

    The Escher Twist sounds intriguing. This is yet another book I’d like to read.

  2. How I met Emily Dickinson « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] have visited Concord several times, and have waxed lyrical about that gem of a town in this space. Emily Dickinson, however, did not live in Concord but rather in Amherst, to the […]

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