Summary and book reviews of Fall of Frost by Brian Hall

Fall of Frost

A Novel

By Brian Hall

Fall of Frost
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  • Hardcover: Mar 2008,
    352 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 2009,
    352 pages.

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Book Summary

In his most recent novel, I Should Be Extremely Happy in Your Company, Brian Hall won acclaim for the way he used the intimate, revelatory voice of fiction to capture the half-hidden personal stories of the Lewis and Clark expedition. In his new novel Hall turns to the life of Robert Frost, arguably America’s most well-known poet. Frost, as both man and artist, was toughened by a hard life. His own father died when Frost was eleven; his only sibling, a sister, had to be institutionalized; of his five children, one died before the age of four, one committed suicide, one went insane, and one died in childbirth.

Told in short chapters, each of which presents an emblematic incident with intensity and immediacy, Hall’s novel deftly weaves together the earlier parts of Frost’s life with his final year, 1962, when, at age eighty- eight, and under the looming threat of the Cuban Missile Crisis, he made a visit to Russia and met with Khrushchev.

As Hall shows, Frost determined early on that he would not succumb to the tragedies life threw at him. The deaths of his children were forms of his own death from which he resurrected himself through poetry—for him, the preeminent symbol of man’s form-giving power.

A searing, exquisitely constructed portrait of one man’s rages, guilt, paranoia, and sheer, defiant persistence, as well as an exploration of why good people suffer unjustly and how art is born from that unanswerable question, Fall of Frost is a magnificent work that further confirms Hall’s status as one of the most talented novelists at work today.

Chapter 1
Moscow, USSR
Thursday September 6, 1962


"The old man won't be placated."

Franklin Reeve is speaking to Fred Adams outside the door. He wasn't bothered to close it, since the old man is deaf as a post. But the old man doesn't hear half bad when he turns his right ear forward.

His deafness is part ruse. He's always been a slow thinker, and at eighty-eight he creeps. He gets confused. The wanted word fails to come, the riposte wobbles on him (or the thought warns: how many times has he said that?). So he retreats, recoups: "What was that? I didn't hear." A result is, he overhears more now than at any time since he was a boy, when he listened to his parents' voices beyond the door about to be flung open, his ears made acute by fright.

Fred stands before him, assessing how to handle the big baby. The big, spoiled baby.

Well goddamn him! Yes, he won't be placated and why should he be? Dobrynin invited him here. The Russian ambassador...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Frost is so strongly identified with New England that it may come as a surprise that he was born—and spent his early years—in San Francisco. How does Frost’s origin and heritage as a Westerner come into play in his identity? Are there elements of this heritage that remain within him even after his long association with the East?

  2. Frost admires Khrushchev, calling him a “Russian Yankee.” What does Frost like and respect about Khrushchev? How does his preconception of Khrushchev shape their eventual meeting? What does Frost’s admiration of Khrushchev say about his own values? How do his feelings toward the Soviet premier contrast with his feelings toward John F. Kennedy, whom he describes as “Galahad&#...
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Reviews

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Is it too early to crown the best novel of 2008? It's hard to imagine that in the nine months remaining in this year I will glean more pleasure from a book than I did from Fall of Frost.

This is a novel that works on every possible level. For its too-short duration, I was completely immersed in its world, the emotional landscape of Robert Frost. Yet I also read it with enough critical distance to marvel, open-mouthed, at the skill with which Brian Hall constructed the book. Fall of Frost is a character study in the deepest sense, a spelunking into the psychological ferment behind Frost's poems. And it is simultaneously an extremely sophisticated meditation on literary form: a novel about poetry which is itself built like a series of exploded and distended poems; an exploration of the writing process that arises from sensitive readings of Frost's work; a fictionalized biography which puts the artificiality of its own method on display (making it an implicit antidote to this tiresome era of the false memoir). And to think that Hall did all this with one hand tied behind his back, prevented by the Frost estate from reprinting any of the poet's later work.   (Reviewed by Amy Reading).

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Media Reviews
Publishers Weekly

[Hall] brings a startling immediacy to a complex figure many know only as the author of classics like The Road Not Taken.

Kirkus Reviews

A rich, contemplative and rewarding exercise in the biographical novel.

Minneapolis-St Paul Star Tribune - Katherine Bailey

[B]rilliant novel ... Hall finds the underside of Frost's public life fascinating. He cleverly crafts internal dialogue and conversation attached to real-life occurrences, and consistently conveys sympathy for a talented man whose life was crowded with tragedy.

Reader Reviews
Gail

Fine Book
I really enjoyed reading this book. I feel that I know so much about Robert Frost now the way he lived, thought. I hope they make a a movie based on this book.

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Beyond the Book

Little Known Facts About Robert Frost

By the end of his long life, Robert Frost was the éminence grise of American letters, a man whose legend preceded him and who often collaborated in promulgating that legend. Yet Brian Hall depicts a Robert Frost who is distinctly more complex than the one most of us encountered in high school, that "simple rustic," that plain-spoken New Englander who extolled the virtues of rural life. Consider these infrequently mentioned details of the Frost mythos:

  • The bard of rural New England was, in fact, born in San Francisco and raised there until age eleven, when his father died. His father had requested to be ...

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